Bookmark this Blog Subscribe to an RSS Feed of this Blog.
<< Home

070420: Solar cheerleading for fun and profit
Ed’s Threads 070420
Musings by Ed Korczynski on April 20, 2007

Solar cheerleading for fun and profit
Mike Splinter, president and CEO of Applied Materials (AMAT), is a great solar cheerleader, and he rightly urges us to consider the energy future for our children and grandchildren. In a recent presentation organized by the Commonwealth Club in Silicon Valley, he stumped for US government tax incentives for solar energy investments, and proposed that 25% of new government demand for electricity should be met by renewable sources such as photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Splinter is not merely a visionary altruist in these matters, since thin-film PV represents the next major growth opportunity for his company. As the IC manufacturing industry has matured, AMAT’s previous 20% annual growth has slowed to ~10% and new high-growth markets are needed to increase growth forecasts back to historic “outperform” levels.

AMAT has made significant investments over the last decade to acquire companies with technologies that support general manufacturing: metrology, gas-effluent abatement, and computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM) software and manufacturing execution systems (MES) for managing lots of substrates and shuttling lithographic reticles around. In addition, AMAT built the “Mayden Technology Center” as a showcase for selling special integrated process recipes in addition to the free general recipes included with all new hardware.

Semiconductor manufacturing fabs want to control their own technologies and supply chains, so they’ve paid for processes from other fabs but almost never from an equipment supplier. Solar cell manufacturing lines require relatively less technology but more classic industrial engineering, and buying an integrated and committed process along with a turn-key physical production line makes a lot of sense. In addition to general thin-films manufacturing technology, AMAT has deep experience with handling the largest FPD substrates in the world through its subsidiary Applied-Komatsu Technology (AKT).

“The latest generation of our tools can pattern six 50” TVs on a glass substrate,” almost the size of a garage door, Splinter told the Commonwealth Club audience. “With innovation we can provide an inflection point for solar energy, to make solar competitive with all other sources of electricity generation,” he championed, and suggested that his company’s technologies may lead to 2x-4x cost-reductions in thin-film PV manufacturing.

Solar sources currently provide <0.1% of the 5 TeraWatts of energy used globally each year. A trillion US$ will be spent on new electricity generation capacity worldwide in 2007, and an average 1GW-capacity coal plant emits as much CO2 as 1 million cars. Today in the US, all renewable energy is only 2% of the total. “The planet’s clock is ticking, and I hope that that ticking is the heartbeat of the planet and not something much worse,” said Splinter.

AMAT is working to set up solar panel fabs for customers in China, India, and Spain, which together represent 20% of the world’s new PV manufacturing capacity. In 2006, the solar manufacturing industry added 2GW capacity to bring the world up to 8GW total; by 2010, a $50B forecast annual investment should build total manufacturing capacity to 25GW. If just 5% of the new demand forecast for electricity worldwide would be met by solar, it would require a total $150B investment. All forecasts for future PV demand are “insatiable” for both the near- and long-term. If you're looking to invest a billion dollars somewhere, a turn-key thin-film PV manufacturing line from AMAT seems like it would provide a solid return on investment (ROI).

Specific public policy changes to help solar investment include extending the home income-tax credit, establishing a net metering law at the federal level, and mandating that 25% of electricity consumption by governments should be from renewable sources. “America is behind the rest of the world in solar energy adoption, and that’s just not acceptable. What are we waiting for?” asked Splinter, “I think you’ll agree that we have to stop making excuses.”

— E.K.

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by [email protected]
070420: Solar cheerleading for fun and profit

Post a Comment


Post a Comment

<< Home

Ed's Threads is the weekly web-log of SST Sr. Technical Editor Ed Korczynski's musings on the topics of semiconductor manufacturing technology and business. Ed received a degree in materials science and engineering from MIT in 1984, and after process development and integration work in fabs, he held applications, marketing, and business development roles at OEMs. Ed won editorial awards from ASBPE, including interviews with Gordon Moore and Jim Morgan, and is not lacking for opinions.