Intel is seeing the sunny side of things

Investment and interest in solar energy is perking up at a torrid pace.  From San Francisco's huge new grant program to a new 280 MW plant in Arizona's desert, the solar industry is reveling in this resurgence and newfound enthusiasm.  Following with this trend, the most successful manufacturer of consumer microprocessors, Intel, is looking to do its part to get solar power going in a big way.

Intel's New Business Initiatives is spinning off one of its most promising units, a solar startup, in order to help it obtain the investments that it needs to become a leader in the industry.  The new company is named SpectraWatt Inc.  Leading the initial investment round is Intel Capital, Intel's global investment organization, with a $50 million investment.  Joining Intel is a powerful coalition of power corporations and interests, including Cogentrix Energy, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund ("CETF") and Solon AG.

The business side of the transaction is expected be wrapped up by the end of Q2 2008, leaving the company to get down to its primary business -- the manufacturing of photovoltaic solar cells.  The company will mass produce the cells, which it will sell to panel makers.  Intel's hand is a logical one as making the silicon-based photovoltaics is similar, on a most basic manufacturing level, to making computer chips.

The company will focus especially on improving manufacturing processes and capabilities to bring down costs of the cells.  It will also focus to a lesser extent on advanced solar technologies, to improve efficiencies, to improve the value of the cells sold.  All these efforts will take place at the company's new manufacturing and technology center in Oregon, which will begin to be constructed by the end of Q2 2008 and is expected to be complete and start shipping units by mid-2009. 

Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice president says the new solar company is a fine example of Intel's leading influence.  He states, "SpectraWatt is a great example of technology resulting from entrepreneurial efforts inside Intel.  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."

On a most basic level, photovoltaic cells are the "circuit" part of solar panels which convert sunlight to energy, via the photoelectric effect.  Photon Consulting, which tracks the market estimated than in 2007 the market for solar products amounted to $30 billion, up a whopping 50 percent from 2006.  All this amazing growth is even more unbelievable, when one considers that currently on a per kilowatt basis, solar power costs twice the price of traditional fossil fuel power, with capital expenses factored in.  This cost is expected to drop to a dead heat within a few years, bringing with it a strong 30 to 40 percent yearly growth.

Intel's latest effort is just one more step in its campaign to be "green" and promote environmental responsibility.  It is on track to reduce its total carbon emissions by 30 percent between 2004 and 2010.  It also eliminated lead and halogens from many of its microprocessors.  Intel rests atop the Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power list as the largest purchaser of green energy credits.

Andrew B. Wilson, SpectraWatt CEO and former general manager in the Intel New Business Initiatives group praises Intel's work, saying, "The formation of SpectraWatt is an important step forward in the renewable energy market.  We are pleased to work with these companies in the goal of moving toward long-term national energy independence."

Thomas Krupke, CEO of SOLON AG, a large European photovoltaic cell manufacturer says the new company is extremely promising and has a bright future ahead.  He states, "We are very proud to be part of this exciting new venture.  With the experience and commitment of all companies involved, we are confident to reach our common goal -- advancing solar technology to a new stage."

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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