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Booming photovoltaic market expected to aid wafer makers

Posted: 14 Apr 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solar cell? semiconductor? silicon wafer? semiconductor equipment?

The processing of silicon wafers used for the manufacture of solar cells could provide a welcome boost to the semiconductor equipment and materials industries which are looking at relatively quiet 2005 before modest growth in 2006 and 2007.

The market is now sufficiently large that materials makers are now prepared to make wafers specifically for the photovoltaic market, according to the head of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association, speaking at Semicon Europa. However the change could be a double-edged sword, according to some observers.

Photovoltaics may seem relatively simple compared with laying down millions of nanotechnology scale transistors, but the drive towards renewable energy, together with government regulation and support in countries such as Japan and Germany, means it is boom industry - and it uses silicon.

Over the last several years photovoltaics have shown 40 percent annual market growth in terms of solar modules, according to Winfried Hoffmann, president of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association and chairman of RWE Schott Solar GmbH.

Price erosion in this young industry means that translates into 20 percent annual sales revenue growth, which has created a $3.5 billion worldwide solar cell business in 2004 and a $7 billion solar panel system business. The component level business is expected to reach about 10 billion euro in 2010 (about $13 billion) rising to 80 billion euro (about $100 billion) in 2020.

"Some 95 percent of our requirement is crystalline silicon, and in the past we have tended to use the excess wafers from the production for the semiconductor industry," said Hoffmann. He went on to say that some wafer makers had said that without the demand from photovoltaic applications some wafer making factories would have been closed down. "The wafer makers tell is they will build wafers for us," said Hoffmann.

The good news for wafer makers is that with demand from photovoltaics should continue to grow strongly helping with profitability. For wafer fab operators the second edge of the sword is that with photovoltaic demand separated off in to its own product silo there is no photovoltaic back-stop.

- Peter Clarke

EE Times

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