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SAN JOSE, CA-An independent semiconductor process-development foundry is venturing into the solar industry. SVTC Technologies has leased 85,000 sf here that will be used to provide solar panel manufacturers the same service it offers the semiconductor industry.

SVTC signed a five-year lease for a two-story 114,000-sf building at 5215 Hellyer Ave. that is part of a two-building 353,000-sf complex owned by Golden Gate Real Estate. Run by Jamin Seid, GGRE is a four-year-old affiliate of the EmriGroup that co-invests with institutions as the local development partner.

Seid tells GlobeSt.com that the asking rate for space in his complex, Hellyer Oaks Technology Park, ranges from $1.35 to $1.50 per sf, and that the negotiated rates are not falling below that range. In the case of SVTC, the company took space that had already been well built out by the previous tenant, New Focus, which vacated the space a few years ago but continued to pay rent until late last summer. SVTC will be reusing a lot of the labs that New Focus had built out and will use a $10 per-sf tenant improvement allowance to move some walls and replace some carpet tiles, he says.

“We will be loading this building up with equipment that solar manufacturers need for their product development,” Kurt Laetz, the SVTC managing director who will lead its solar effort tells GlobeSt.com. “It should allow a lot of companies to get their product to market cheaper and faster.”

Dave Bergeron, SVTC’s chief executive says the facility is meant to provide the support infrastructure necessary to match the rapid growth in development efforts by new and existing solar manufacturers. “Together with a number of high-profile partners, SVTC Solar will provide the most complete set of capabilities available in the U.S. and will compete with Fraunhofer in Germany and proprietary centers in Japan,” he says.

In addition to the PV development center SVTC’s new San Jose facility will be home to a number of partners offering complementary services such that the facility can support a wide range of development needs, from equipment manufacturers to reliability, testing and certification services. Of the 85,000 sf, 30,000 sf will be “Class 10000″ clean room space and another 20,000 sf will be lab space.

Laetz, previously with XSunX, a company that develops and commercializes thin-film photovoltaic solar cell technology, says SVTC Solar and its photovoltaic development center will initially serve an estimated 10 PV companies. He expects it grow over the next three years to between 25 and 30 large and small companies engaged in silicon and gallium arsenide-based PV development.

“We are going to launch the facility on silicon wafers but we absolutely intend to [eventually] begin providing equipment for thin film [solar panel manufacturers],” Laetz says.

Seid says 5215 Hellyer Ave. is now more than half leased and that activity is strong for the remaining space, which includes a second, 150,000-sf building in the complex that is fully available, having been vacated by Northrop Grumman late last year after a lease buyout. Craig Fordyce of Colliers International has the leasing assignment.

SVTC is the fourth solar energy related tenant that has signed a lease in the Silicon Valley in the recent past, prompting some to change the name Silicon Valley to ‘Solarcon’ Valley. “And SVTC’s lease will lead to more solar companies moving down here, because its model is designed to attract them,” Seid says. “I have friends in the venture capital industry down here who have stopped funding a lot of different kinds of venture but continue to fund solar.”

Right around the end of the first quarter, Stion Corp, a manufacturer of thin-film solar technology signed a five-year lease that will relocate its headquarters to San Jose from Menlo Park later this year. The company, currently housed in 11,000 sf in Menlo Park, signed a five-year lease for a 65,000-sf building in the Edenvale industrial area of South San Jose.At the start of 2007, Nanosolar Inc. leased a building in San Jose for a solar cell fabrication facility. The Palo Alto, CA-based company leased 90,000 sf of a 203,800-sf building at 5521 Hellyer Ave. that is owned by Mission West Properties.

Nansolar’s technology does not utilize silicon crystals, which is how 90% of the world’s solar energy is currently produced. Instead, Nanosolar and others such as San Jose-based Miasole use a copper alloy that also absorbs light and spits out electricity. Moreover, the copper alloy solar cells are paper-thin and flexible, allowing them to be shaped to fit on a variety of building components, and the cost to produce them is expected to be significantly less than silicon crystal technology.

Both Stion and Nanosolar received incentives from the city’s Redevelopment Agency Board that helped seal the deals. In addition to those two companies, the city attracted SoloPower from Milpitas in November 2007.

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