China's Hanergy to buy U.S. solar startup Miasole: source

LOS ANGELES Mon Oct 1, 2012 6:52pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Miasole, which raised hundreds of millions of dollars as one of Silicon Valley's hottest cleantech startups, has agreed to be sold to China's Hanergy Holding Group for $30 million, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The company will continue to operate as a unit of Hanergy, and no employees will be laid off for a year after the deal closes, the source said, adding that it is expected to happen later this month.

Miasole declined to comment. Hanergy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Solar manufacturers are struggling with a global glut of solar panels that has erased profits and hampered funding for new companies and technologies. Miasole's deal with Hanergy would be the latest example of a U.S. solar startup being rescued by a larger Asian industrial manufacturer. In the last year, solar companies HelioVolt and Ascent Solar Technologies Inc (ASTI.O) have sold stakes to South Korean conglomerate SK Group and China's TFG Radiant Group, respectively.

One analyst estimated that Miasole's investors -- which include Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and VantagePoint Capital Partners -- would receive about six cents on the dollar.

"Here is the latest entry to the list of PV (photovoltaic) manufacturers getting bought for pennies on the dollar," Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov said in a note to clients, calling the deal "a fire-sale."

"The semi-distressed nature of this transaction illustrates the problems faced by all module producers amid the massive industry overcapacity," Molchanov wrote.

The acquisition would be Hanergy's second of a struggling thin film solar company this year. The company, China's largest privately owned renewable energy provider, also bought Solibro, a unit of insolvent German solar group Q-Cells QCEG.UL.

Miasole, based in Santa Clara, California, has roughly $500 million since 2006. In additional to Kleiner Perkins and VantagePoint, investors include Bessemer Venture Partners, Firelake Capital and Passport Capital.

Miasole announced a $55 million funding round as recently as March of this year, but had said late last year that it was seeking a partner to help support its growth plan.

Miasole is one of a handful of U.S. solar companies using copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, to make solar panels. CIGS panels have long been seen as a possible challenger to traditional silicon-based panels because they cost less to manufacture and have the potential to generate close to as much electricity from the sun's light.

But a dramatic fall in the price of silicon panels has put increased pressure on startups to bring a product to market that can compete with ever-cheaper traditional modules made in Asia. Solyndra, another California company that was among the most high-profile U.S. CIGS manufacturers, fell victim to sharply declining panel prices and filed for bankruptcy a year ago.

(Reporting By Nichola Groom; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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