VCs Heed Obama’s Call with More Than $100M For Solar Installation

President Obama emphasized clean energy in his State of the Union address on Monday, calling on the nation to get 80% of its electricity from renewable and other sources by 2035.

It seems like the venture community anticipated his plea.

Clean energy comes in a number of different flavors, according to Obama. Wind, solar, nuclear, clean coal and natural gas are all part of the president’s plan to remake the country’s energy landscape. One of these – solar panel installations on homes and businesses – has been a big focus of venture investing over the past six months and could be a big winner.

In the past six months, VCs put more than $100 million into solar panel installers, with RockPort Capital Partners the latest to jump into the sector by leading a $7 million Series B round in Solar Universe. The round closed in December, but it was officially announced this week.

The reason for the interest is the installation business shows signs of rapid growth in a market place that is potentially enormous. In the past year, the spread of solar leasing options and Internet ordering has made solar an easier purchase for consumers. The companies on the edge of this trend are set to prosper.

Last summer, for instance, Sungevity, an Oakland based installer with an Internet ordering system, said its revenue from residential solar installation jumped tenfold in a year. The company attributed the growth to its new leasing program.

Verengo Solar Plus, a southern California installer that received $9.7 million from Angeleno Group earlier this month, said its revenue increased by more than 70% in the past year. As a result, it is expanding into new geographies.

A similar upbeat tone comes from Solar Universe, which unlike other installers is a pure play solar franchisor. The company has 21 franchisees in six states and expects the total to rise to 45 this year. CEO Joe Bono says the Livermore, Calif.-based company became cash flow positive in 2009 and profitable last year. It boasts 850 residential and small business installations and hopes to more than double the number this year.

Solar Universe develops software its franchisees use for sales and quotations. With the new money, “we think we can slingshot past the competition,” says Bono.

The venture interest in solar installation also stretches to solar financing company SunRun, which in June raised $55 million in a deal Sequoia Capital led and existing investors Accel Partners and Foundation Capital joined.

A month later, installer SolarCity received $21.5 million in a transaction led by Mayfield Fund and supported by existing investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson, DBL Investors and Generation Investment Management.

In December, Sungevity raised its own $15 million round from investors Greener Capital, Firelake Capital and BrightPath Capital.

In addition, Clean Power Finance reportedly added to its war chest with money from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google Ventures. It raised a $6.9 million round in January 2010 that was co-led by Claremont Creek Ventures and Clean Pacific Ventures, and joined by prior investors Sand Hill Angels and Gary Kremen. Clean Power Finance supplies sales and marketing software and online services to installers.

Venture investors see big things for solar installation. So, apparently, does our nation’s president.