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IT giants move into solar technology

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Intel and IBM are both making moves into the solar power business. Intel is spinning off a start-up company, SpectraWatt, while IBM is focusing new research on making the technology more effective. 

SpectraWatt is being spun off by Intel’s New Business Initiatives group with a $50-million investment. Intel will be partned by Cogentrix Energy, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund (CETF) and Solon.
SpectraWatt will manufacture and supply photovoltaic cells to solar module makers. It will also concentrate development efforts on improvements in current manufacturing processes and capabilities to reduce the cost of photovoltaic energy generation.
SpectraWatt expects to break ground on its manufacturing and advanced technology development facility in Oregon in the second half of 2008 with first product shipments expected by mid-2009.
“SpectraWatt is a great example of technology resulting from entrepreneurial efforts inside Intel,” says Arvind Sodhani, president of Intel Capital and Intel executive vice-president. “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.”
Solar cells are the discrete components in a solar energy generation system responsible for converting sunlight to electricity. The end user market segment for solar technology in 2007 was about $30-billion, a 50% increase from 2006, according to Photon Consulting.
Solar industry growth of 30% to 40% annually is expected to continue in years to come as the economics of solar, which is currently approximately twice the cost of delivered retail electricity on a per kilowatt basis, begins to approach that of traditional electricity-generation technologies.
Meanhwhile, IBM has said it will work with Tokyo Ohka Kogyo, which manufactures semiconductor and flat-panel technology, to produce cheaper solar cells.
The IBM research will focus on thin-film solar, which are half the price of cells made from silicon wafers.