SpectraWatt Downward Spiral Has Begun – Should Intel Stick to Processors? $INTC

Intel makes fantastic microprocessors.

It just stinks at almost everything else.

The latest example of the Intel curse comes with problems SpectraWatt, a solar cell company spun out of Intel in 2008. The Associated Pressreports that the company will lay off around 100 employees and close a manufacturing plant in suburban New York.

The company blamed the shutdown on the harsh European winters curbingdemand for its products. It is unclear if the company is now defunct orjust shutting down operations, but the practical impact is prettysevere.

This weakness can’t be blamed on the overall solar industry, as global PV installations are up 100% in 2010, according to a GTM Research Global PV Demand report by Shayle Kann. Strangely, SpectraWatt didn’t blame the Chinese for their woes.

At the end of 2010 global cell manufacturing capacity will be ~25 GW, with the US representing 10% of that.  The recently released GTM Research PV Technology report by Shyam Mehta forecasts that by 2013 the US share of crystallinesilicon cell manufacturing will fall to 4%, whereas China/Taiwan’s share will grow to 70%.  In a commodity business, cost is king – and Chinesemanufacturers have free land, cheap labor, lower electricity costs, andaccess to low-cost Chinese wafers.

SpectraWatt received $50 million in VC funds from Intel and others. Italso received federal and state grants and lined up Solon, the largeGerman solar developer, as a strategic partner. SpectraWatt was borninside Intel: Intel started developing the business plan for nurturing a solar cell startup in 2004. The factory, in space leased from IBM, wassupposed to be big enough to produce 60 megawatts of multicrystalline solar cells a year.

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