BP has added to its renewable energy activities by acquiring the Agere Systems’ semiconductor plant in Madrid as a base for a five-fold expansion of its solar photovoltaic cell manufacturing in Spain.

This expansion builds on the company’s existing manufacturing and marketing operations in Madrid. The deal is expected to be complete within the next few months.

The new facility will be one of the largest solar plants in the world, producing 60 MW a year of high-efficiency crystalline silicon Saturn solar cells and having the potential to expand further.

BP said that it intends to market the solar cells globally but is particularly targeting the rapidly growing demand for solar power in Europe. The plant will begin production by the end of 2002 and will use state-of-the-art techniques to improve productivity, yield, cell efficiency and product performance.

The acquisition will cost BP £100 million and the project, which is situated to the north of Madrid, will eventually create 600 jobs.

Commenting on the deal, BP Solar chief executive Harry Shimp said,”Spain and the rest of Europe represent growing markets for solar power. This project in Madrid will enable us to continue to play a leading role in meeting that demand.”

BP Spain President Luis Javier Navarro added, “Solar power is increasingly helping to meet the energy needs of the Spanish people, while protecting our environment.”

A spokesperson for the UK Solar Energy Society welcomed the news and said it was a step in the right direction. She stressed solar power was still a very small part of BP’s activities but confirmed that demand was growing in continental Europe.

BP has nearly 20 per cent of the global solar energy market and has sought to rebrand itself as an energy company not solely devoted to petroleum products. In 2000 it had a turnover of 200 million dollars, and produced over 40 MW of solar photovoltaic equipment.