This Week in Solar

Last week I was rebuked for saying nothing about grid parity, the point at which solar becomes competitive with fossil-fueled power. Understand that this is a marathon, Fools -- not a sprint. That said, there was a potentially game-changing development this week. But I'll save that one for last.

On Monday, both Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) made solar headlines. One point I want to get across in this weekly roundup is that while investors tend to fixate on pure plays like SunPower (Nasdaq: SPWR  ) , it's just as important to monitor semiconductor companies and other technology titans. SunPower itself is a Cypress Semiconductor (NYSE: CY  ) spinoff, after all.

Intel spun off an in-house venture called SpectraWatt, raising capital from the likes of Goldman Sachs and German slugger Solon AG. Based on the firm's subsequent supply deal with PV Crystalox, we know that SpectraWatt will be a traditional multicrystalline PV player. That doesn't exactly fire the imagination.

IBM's foray into copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) thin-film cells is somewhat spicier. The company, along with a Japanese partner, is targeting 15%-plus conversion efficiencies out of next-generation cells that currently only yield 8%-12%. Other companies working on this flavor of thin-film material include Ascent Solar Technologies (Nasdaq: ASTI  ) and Nanosolar. We'll get back to the latter company in a moment.

In terms of expansion plans, two standouts this week were Canadian Solar (Nasdaq: CSIQ  ) and REC Group. Belle of the ball Canadian Solar appeared to raise sales guidance for 2008, but the only real change from the first quarter was the inclusion of e-Module sales. The firm did significantly hike its early 2009 targets for cell and wafer capacity, however. REC, meanwhile, said it's shelling out $2.5 billion on a new plant in Singapore. REC sells solar cells in Singapore ... say that five times fast!

Possibly the biggest news, though, was a blog post by Martin Roscheisen, CEO of Nanosolar. In his post, Dr. Roscheisen claims that Nanosolar has introduced a thin-film printing press with one gigawatt of annual capacity. There's also a video of the $1.65 million production tool at work. Gigawatt-scale thin-film manufacturing equipment from the likes of Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT  ) currently fetches well over a billion dollars. If this tool can reach commercial scale, Nanosolar is first in line to reach the holy grail (and by that, I mean grid parity).

Of all the companies mentioned here, Motley Fool CAPS players are sweetest on Cypress. Click here to see what everyone's saying -- and make a call of your own.

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