Intel Spins Out, Funds Solar Maker SpectraWatt

As the market for solar continues to grow, the tech giants are starting to wade in. After IBM said today that it will work on thin-film solar technology, Intel said that it has spun out and funded a solar startup called SpectraWatt. Both announcements come just weeks after solar startup Xtreme Energetics said it would license technology from HP to make clear transistors for more efficient solar panels.

SpecraWatt will make photovoltaic solar cells, focusing on reducing the cost of manufacturing, and will also work on “advanced solar cell technology” (that could mean a lot of things; we’re waiting for clarification). Intel’s investing arm, Intel Capital, is also leading a $50 million investment into the startup. Other investors in the round, which will close later this year, include Goldman Sach’s subsidiary Cogentrix Energy, the PCG Clean Energy and Technology Fund, and German solar maker Solon.

This isn’t Intel Capital’s first cleantech investment; earlier this month the fund said it was investing in WiMax-based smart-grid software developer Grid Net. The high-profile backer also seems to like aggressive timelines: SpectraWatt says it hopes to “break ground” on a manufacturing facility in Oregon in the second half of this year, with plans to ship product by the middle of next year. The company has likely been lining up its production plans while working within Intel.

The newly spun-out startup is moving fast to get a piece of the rapidly growing solar market. Installations of photovoltaic solar systems increased by 2,826 MW in 2007 globally, according to Solar Buzz. And as that market grows, more the companies with experience in chips and IT are looking to get a piece of the action.

Chip equipment manufacturing company Applied Materials has has spent billion over the past year buying up solar equipment makers. Some analysts think the company’s solar revenue could reach $1.2 billion in 2009.

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