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SunPower to build power plant in Spain

In solar, everyone is moving into everyone else's business.

SunPower, a U.S. manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells and panels, said Tuesday that it will build an 18-megawatt solar power plant in the Badajoz region of Spain.

The plant is expected to open in 2008, and will generate more than 32 million kilowatt-hours of energy upon completion. Overall, SunPower has power plants capable of generating 100 megawatts of power in the country.

Although a lot of people think of solar panels as something that goes on the roof of a home or commercial buildings, most solar panels manufactured today go into old farming fields. Germany, Ontario, Spain and other places have created "feed-in" tariff systems that allow individuals to sell electricity to utilities under long-term, lucrative contracts. There are spreadsheets and applications that can estimate how much power a given plot of land will produce over a couple decades judging by the amount of solar radiation that hits it, etc.

While SunPower is primarily known for its solar panels, the company is expanding its reach beyond its core products. It's a common theme in the solar world. Some panel makers have branched into silicon production, for instance, while installers, power plant operators and panel makers are all seeping into each other's businesses.

The exception is Germany's Q-Cells, which only makes solar cells. It then sells these to panel makers and then lets its customers beat each other up on price.