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Nanosolar: On Your Minds And In Your Emails

Nanosolar Explosion
CNBC.com
Nanosolar Explosion

Just getting a chance now to look at email to the blog and you flooded me with interest in Nanosolar!

Paul Dear in Michigan: "How do you invest in it?"

Jim Miller asks, "How do we invest? Why can't we plebes buy it? Don't you think a good idea deserves a rapid capital accumulation? What's the problem?"

David Daley writes, "Where can I get more information and is there any possibility that one can get in on small investing in this?"

A.greene: "When will Nanosolar be public. I'm interested in buying the stock." "Is there a stock symbol for Nanosolar" from Charlotte in Hollywood, Florida.

John Faust: "Is the company's stock traded? Ticker?" "How do I get more information about this company," asks Les Becker.

Ted from Austin, Texas: "Jim -- how can I invest in this company, directly or indirectly?"

And the list goes on. And on. It's safe to say I might have struck a nerve with this one. The amazing thing is that Nanosolar, while still in the venture capital phase of its development, seems to be attracting enormous attention. So I called Erik Straser, the general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures and a lead investor in the company, this morning for an update.

He's just as excited today as he's been, telling me "This one's a game changer. The reason why, is this company has the opportunity to break one of the Holy Grails in energy. It's cost-competitive with fossil fuels on the power grid. There's no future fuel risk. You're not couple to a fossil fuel where the future price curve is not very attractive. And we're moving the company from the semiconductor business--solar's always been the ugly stepchild of the semiconductor business--to the printing business."

Trouble is, because it's not yet public, and unless you know someone who knows someone, who's got a good connection at a hedge fund, retirement fund or pension fund that has money with the list of venture funds backing Nanosolar, you're probably out of luck. But that doesn't mean you should remove this company from your financial radar screen.

Straser tells me that 2008 is "the" year for Nanosolar. That if you take another successful solar company now public, First Solar, as the model, Nanosolar will head to the public markets once its had a quarter of real production under its belt. The company is using the private markets to fund its first facility, now under construction in South San Jose, and once it begins delivering real product to real customers--and there have been thousands of customer inquiries already --it'll head to Wall Street.

UPDATE: Going public after a quarter of sales under its belt is only a possibility for Nanosolar, not a certainty.

Mahesh Johari writes: "Do you know what is the difference between Nanosolar's flexible cells and those manufactured by Ascent solar (which is working with Norsk Hydro to create building-integrated photovoltaics)? Ascent Solar is public (ASTI). Both products are CIGS (copper indium gallium diselenide) cells that are ultra-light and ultra-thin. Ascent solar's spokesman has been telling that Nanosolar cells have to applied to glass, where Ascent's cells go on plastic."

Good points. I asked Straser about this. It's true that Nanosolar's first products will be printed to glass, not because of a lack of innovation, but because that's what customers are asking for. "It's not sold today as a paint you can paint on your house. It will go on a foil, on top of a metal foil. But initially, it will go into glass. You want to be innovating, but you don't want to be innovating everywhere. Customers what the same thing they've been getting, but at a substantially lower price. Which is what we'll do."

UPDATE: Bringing the technology to "glass" as its first product may or may not happen. Nanosolar may print the material on metal AND glass, appealing to two different markets. That's to be determined.

Meantime, ASTI , still operating at a loss, has a marketcap of only $184 million, and has been on a tear this past year. This was a $2 stock in February. It's at $18 and change. I don't know much about them, however.

But Straser says these new "clean tech" companies show huge promise. "Traditionally, there's always been a choice between doing 'well,' and doing 'good.' Today that's a false choice. Look at what (GE's Jeff) Immelt is doing: Wal-Mart, Nanosolar. It's the question: Should I do well, or do good, for the balance sheet. With this company, it's doing both. And everybody's saying, 'Wow, this is a green opportunity where the balance sheet makes sense."

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com