Intel Spinout SpectraWatt Snags $41.4M for Solar Cell Plant

SpectraWatt, a maker of crystalline silicon solar cells spun out of Intel back in 2008, has dusted itself off after funding troubles and manufacturing delays, and now says it has the capital necessary to finish work on its first factory, allow for capacity expansions and continue developing its technology. This morning the company announced that it has raised $41.4 million in convertible debt from a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, Intel’s VC arm Intel Capital, and the PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund. A portion of the new funds will be used to ready SpectraWatt’s factory in Hopewell Junction, New York, to produce cells for the company’s first customer shipments in the second quarter of this year.

SpectraWatt describes itself as having “semiconductor manufacturing roots,” and it aims to shrink the cost of solar energy generation in part by improving the manufacturing processes for solar cells. Already, SpectraWatt says it has completed construction of the plant (designed to house up to 200 megawatts in production capacity), and begun initial cell production on its first 60-megawatt line.

The startup has survived a few challenges to get here. Back in mid-2008, when it spun out of Intel with a $50 million Series A financing round led by Intel Capital (the computing giant’s investing arm), SpectraWatt said it hoped to “break ground” on a 60-megawatt factory in Oregon by the end of that year, with plans to ship product by the middle of 2009.

SpectraWatt put its plans to build a factory in Hillsboro, Ore., on hold in January 2009 after being unable to get enough financing. CEO Andrew Wilson told The Oregonian newspaper at the time that SpectraWatt was searching for an existing building that it could retrofit for less than the cost of building a new factory, and had started considering leaving the state. He also said the change of plans would delay SpectraWatt’s first solar-cell shipments by five or six months.

SpectraWatt ended up setting up headquarters in Hopewell Junction last spring, although it still has some operations in Oregon. If it sticks with its current timeline and starts shipping cells to customers within the next three months, that will put it about a year behind the original schedule.

But after a year in which the solar industry struggled with scarce credit, slack demand, module overproduction and plunging prices, and solar companies have canceled, scaled back or delayed projects right and left, the startup still remains standing — not a small feat.

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