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Intel, IBM jump into solar ventures

As the profit potential of solar energy continues to draw big-name players, Intel and IBM did not waste time in jumping into solar ventures, sources at the companies said on Sunday.

Intel has spun off a new company called Spectra Watt to make photovoltaic cells for solar modules. The company will be based in Hillsboro, Oregan, and will make 60 megawatts worth of solar cells a year, according to the company’s CEO Andrew Wilson. Wilson had been general manager of the Intel New Business Initiatives group.

The company received $50 million from Intel Capital, the company’s investment arm; Cogentrix Energy, a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs; the PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund; and Solon, a German solar company, according to Wilson. The deal will close in the next few weeks; the company expects manufacturing to begin by mid-2009. “This market is going to grow so rapidly for so long that there are going to be lots of players,” said Wilson. “Competition is good.” Experts say the solar industry will continue to see a 30 to 40% annual growth rate for the next several years.

Wilson wouldn’t announce the names of Spectra Watt customers, but he said the company has secured its silicon supply “for a very meaningful period of time.” Solar today costs about twice as much as utility-generated power, but within four to five years, it’ll reach parity, which Wilson called “the magic crossover point.” Then, he said, “the demand is virtually unlimited.”

Meanwhile, IBM said it would work with a Advertisement Japanese semiconductor and flat-panel manufacturer, Tokyo Ohka Kogyo, to make cheaper solar cells. Its research focuses on thin-film solar, which costs half as much as cells made from silicon wafers, IBM’s spokesman Supratik Guha said.

IBM said its technology might be able to produce solar cells that cost less than one dollar a watt with a 15% efficiency rate, which would “make solar energy affordable on a mass scale,” Guha said. The company intends to license its technology rather than make solar cells itself.

Worldwide sales of solar cells reached $20 billion in 2007, according Clean Edge, a clean-technology research and consulting firm. (people.com.cn)