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Intel Spins Off Solar Tech Business

In addition to making photovoltaic cells, SpectraWatt also will focus on improving current manufacturing processes to reduce the cost of photovoltaic energy generation.
Intel is spinning off a startup business that is developing solar energy technology.

Called SpectraWatt, the company is from Intel's New Business Initiatives group. Intel Capital, the chipmaker's investment arm, is leading a $50 million investment round in SpectraWatt and is joined by Cogentrix Energy, a subsidiary of the Goldman Sachs Group; PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund; and Solon AG. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the month.

The company will manufacture and sell photovoltaic cells to makers of solar modules, Intel said. SpectraWatt also will focus on improving current manufacturing processes to reduce the cost of photovoltaic energy generation.

Today, electricity generated through solar energy is about twice the cost of traditional retail electricity on a per-kilowatt basis. Nevertheless, the market for solar technology last year was $30 billion, a 50% increase over 2006, according to Intel. Industry growth is expected to continue from 30% to 40% annually, if progress continues in bringing the cost closer to traditional electricity-generation technologies.

The company plans to begin construction in the second half of the year in Oregon of its first manufacturing and development facility. The first product shipments are expected to ship by mid-2009.

"This is an important investment for Intel Capital in the growing cleantech sector and we look forward to working with the company to support its expansion," Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital, said in a statement.

Intel, a maker of microprocessors that power the majority of PCs in the world, said developing a solar business is consistent with its focus on energy efficiency and in seeking new business opportunities. The company said it is on track to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 30% from the 2004 level through 2010.

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer