Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and DuPont (NYSE:DD) have already done it, and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) is planning on doing it. I am referring to the growing trend of installing solar panels on office buildings and other corporate facilities. Yesterday, Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT) became the latest company to jump on the bandwagon, announcing that it would be installing solar panels capable of generating 1.9 megawatts at its research center out in sunny Sunnyvale, Calif. This would be the largest solar power installation on a corporate facility in the United States.

The deal will generate some good PR, and it should also cut down on the company's energy costs when the panels become fully operational in 2008. (1.9 MW is roughly the amount of electricity approximately 1,400 homes would consume.) But I like the project for another reason -- it will serve as a tangible reminder to Applied Materials' employees that the company intends to make selling equipment to the solar industry a significant portion of its future business.

To be sure, selling equipment to the semiconductor industry will remain the bulk of its business, but as the company's CEO, Mike Splinter, said during a conference call this week, solar panels are expected to produce more than 100 gigawatts of new energy between now and 2017. Put another way, this implies that approximately $125 billion in new solar equipment -- the kind Applied Materials specializes in manufacturing -- will be needed to produce the number of photovoltaic cells necessary to produce that much energy.

Assuming the company can command even a modest portion of that figure, which certainly seems possible given its recent deal with Moser Baer, it is clear that soon, the sun could not only be powering its corporate offices -- it could also be powering its future growth, and driving its stock price higher.

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Microsoft and Wal-Mart are Inside Value picks. PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy is a Rule Breakers selection.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.