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For concentrated solar power company Heliogen, 2023 concluded on a strange note.
In September, the company carried out a reverse stock split in response to its stock falling well below $1. By November, Heliogen was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, and promptly listed on the over-the-counter marketplace.
Now, the company is in the midst of an artificial intelligence-backed rebrand as a software licensing and development company.
Despite a very rocky 2023, Heliogen is now in commercialization mode, CEO Christie Obiaya told Latitude Media. In the immediate term, that means deploying both hardware and its AI software layer via a handful of different business models.
The new Heliogen model is primarily commodities-as-a-service: providing steam, power, or green hydrogen to municipalities and heavy industry, and charging based on output. (Steam-as-a-service is the business model chosen by once-failed CSP company Glasspoint, which uses a parabolic trough system and is also angling for a comeback, focused on the mining sector.)
Another potential model, Obiaya said, would be based on contracts to build AI-powered CSP facilities.
But in the longer term, commercialization will be less hands-on with projects, and more focused on AI. The company said the tool stands to increase CSP’s efficiency and lower both operational and maintenance costs.
Heliogen’s recent testing at Sandia National Laboratories — during which it deployed its software on third party heliostats for the first time — was funded by a 2020 grant from the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. And that project could pave the path to commercialization and relationships with other CSP project operators, Heliogen said.
“Five years from now, we’d love to be in a licensing-type model, where we really focus on licensing and delivering the software, the integrated systems modeling, the heliostats,” Obiaya said. “In the meantime we’re wearing a lot of hats.”
Heliogen went public via SPAC in 2021 and is still leveraging the capital that the move brought onto the balance sheet, Obiaya said, to the tune of $162 million. And with the help of a few runway-extending cost reductions, the company remains “well capitalized” to meet its near-term goals
That store of cash is key, Obiaya added, given where the U.S. market is today: technologies that aren’t “throwing off a lot of cash” just aren’t attracting as much interest.
However, that’s less true elsewhere. Despite the recent NYSE delisting, Heliogen “absolutely has access to capital,” Obiaya said, just not so much from U.S. sources.
Obiaya said that the CSP boom-then-bust — and resulting skepticism (bordering on disinterest) — has been primarily constrained to the U.S. A decade ago, most power users weren’t prioritizing storage, which put CSP at a disadvantage, Obiaya said, because one of the technology’s major appeals is its ability to pair with thermal energy storage.
“We entered a quiet period in the U.S., but around the world CSP is getting built,” Obiaya said, pointing to regions including the Middle East, North Africa, Chile, and China. “It’s out of sight, out of mind at the moment.”