German solar battery maker sonnen secures Shell cash to expand

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German solar battery maker sonnen has secured 60 million euros ($71 million) in funds from Shell Ventures and existing shareholders to expand at home and abroad.

FILE PHOTO: A lithium battery unit of the startup "sonnen", formerly known as Sonnenbatterie, is seen in Berlin, Germany, October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

Shell Ventures, a unit of the Anglo-Dutch oil major that has been boosting its investments in solar and other renewables, was a lead investor in the latest funding round, sonnen Chief executive Christoph Ostermann told Reuters.

“With this money, we can get started on important investment plans, especially in the United States and Australia,” he said, adding that existing shareholders also contributed extra cash.

“We also want to invest in broadening our sonnen community and our virtual power plant (VPP), and expand our offering of grid-related services,” the sonnen CEO said, adding that the firm aimed to turn a profit in Germany in two years.

The company provides battery storage systems to households with rooftop solar panels and links up home-produced electricity to other solar users in Germany, Europe’s biggest solar market.

The company -- which also operates in Italy, France, Australia, Austria, Britain and the United States -- provides hardware and software to customers seeking more independence from power markets dominated by big utilities generating most of their electricity from fossil fuels.

So far, sonnen has sold 30,000 batteries worldwide with combined capacity for 210 megawatts. This only equates to a small fossil-fuel power plant but it has potential to expand as storage becomes cheaper and generation becomes less centralized.

The company has teamed up with grid companies to help iron out imbalances in transmission networks by aggregating battery owners to operate as a single “virtual” power plant.

In 2016, sonnen received 76 million euros from investors, including China’s Envision. Ostermann said the 76 million euros plus the latest funding round would cover investment for the next two years.

“It is important for us to have leg room, as we are a growth company and need to develop,” he said.

Other sonnen investors include Germany’s eCapital and MVP, Dutch firm SET Ventures, Czech company Inven Capital, and GE Ventures, a unit of U.S. firm General Electric.

The investment from Shell, which operates in 140 countries, would help sonnen expand into new areas, Ostermann said.

The company boosted turnover by 65 percent to 65 million euros in 2017, outpacing growth in German solar battery sales of 30 percent, Ostermann said, adding that a stock market listing (IPO) was a possibility but was not on the immediate horizon.

Reporting by Vera Eckert; Editing by Edmund Blair