Areva To Buy VC-Backed Solar Thermal Company Ausra

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The world’s largest nuclear plant builder, Areva SA (CEPFi.PA), is entering the solar power industry, with the company announcing on Monday its acquisition of U.S.-based solar thermal player Ausra.

Areva did not disclose financial details about the deal to purchase the Silicon Valley company, which had raised $130 million in venture capital from high-profile firms including Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures.

The solar power industry has started to consolidate after struggling in 2009 with a dearth of financing for new projects and a steep fall in prices. Other solar thermal players include Spain’s Abengoa SA (ABG.MC) and privately held U.S.-based BrightSource Energy Inc.

The deal marks Areva’s first foray into solar energy and the nuclear giant hopes to have the leading market share in concentrated solar power by 2012, an Areva executive told Reuters in an interview.

“This market is set to have 20 gigawatts by the year 2020. Areva has an objective to be a world leader in solar energy,” said Anil Srivastava, Areva’s senior executive vice president of its renewable energies business group.

The executive said Areva chose solar thermal technology — which uses the sun’s heat to create steam to run turbines for electricity — over other solar power options because it is “the closest” to nuclear plants.

Areva plans to run its solar business out of Ausra’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, and grow the existing workforce of 70 people to 120 people worldwide.

The group plans to build concentrated solar power plants for utilities, independent power producers and industrial companies in the southwestern United States, Middle East, Europe, South Africa and ultimately other parts of the world.

Ausra Chief Executive Robert Fishman said in an interview that costs run between $3 and $3.50 per watt to build solar projects with its technology.

The acquisition is expected to close in the next few months, subject to regulatory approval. (Reporting by Laura Isensee; editing by Braden Reddall and Andre Grenon)

peHUB Note: Ausra has raised over $125 million in total VC funding, from Kern Partners, Generation Investment Management, Starfish Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.