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Posts Tagged ‘solar’

300mm is the new 200mm!

August 14, 2013 Comments off

300mm fabs.

Buyers of 300mm fabs.

300mm is the new 200mm, said GlobalFoundries’ David Duke, during a presentation titled ‘Used Equipment Market’ at the recently held Semicon West 2013 in San Francisco, USA. Used semiconductor equipment sourcing and sales is a very interesting challenge.

Qimonda, Spansion, Powerchip and ProMOS had jumpstarted the market. Now, there is a broadening user base. There is an unexpected uptake by analog and power device producers to achieve economies of scale. There has been legacy logic scaling. Also, the 200mm fabs are being upgraded to 300mm with used equipment. Many 300mm tools can “bridge” to 200mm easily.

Parts tools are seeding the ecosystem. Third parties are also able to support refurb as well as tool moves. However, we need more! Software licensing is becoming a smaller hurdle. There has been no over-supply yet!

So, what are the ‘rough’ rules of thumb for 300mm? First, there are approximately 1,500 individual tools in the open market. Few sellers know the values as the market is still developing. Twenty percent of the transactions drive 80 percent of sales. Today, the number of 300mm buyers is around  1/10th the number of 200mm buyers!

Lithography has been the biggest difference. Leading edge DRAM is far more expensive in lithography. Lithography has seen the most dramatic financial effects with explosive pricing in technology (immersion) and the need for capacity (two-three critical passes vs. one with dual/triple gate patterning. As of now, financial shocks and bankruptcies are the main drivers for used 300mm.

Next, 200mm is now the new 150mm! The 200mm OEM support is starting to dry up. It is nearly impossible to compete in productivity vs. 300mm. Oversupply is causing values to stay suppressed. The only bright spot being: there is still strong demand for complete fabs. The 200mm market split is roughly by 40 percent Asia and 60 percent rest of the world.

So, what are the likely alternative markets for 200mm and 300mm fabs? These are said to be MEMs and TSV, LEDs and solar PV.

That brings me to India! What are they doing about fabs over here? This article has enough pointers as to what should be done. Otherwise, the world is already moving to 450mm fabs! Am I right?

Convergence of PV materials, test and reliability: What really matters?


SEMI, USA recently hosted the seminar on ‘Convergence of PV Materials, Test and Reliability: What Really Matters?

Reliability in growing PV industry
Speaking on the importance of reliability to a growing PV industry, Sarah Kurtz, principal scientist, Reliability group manager, NREL, said that confidence in long-term performance is a necessity in the PV industry. Current failure rates are low. There is need to demonstrate confidence so that failure rates will stay low. There has been exponential growth of the PV industry so far. PV is a significant fraction of new installations. It now represents a significant fraction of new electricity generating installations of all kinds.

How does one predict the lifetime of PV modules? There has been a qualification test evolution for JPL block buys. Most studies of c-Si modules show module failures are small. Internal electrical current issues often dominate.

The vast majority of installations show very low PV module failure rates (often less than 0.1 percent). There has been evidence that PV is low risk compared to other investments. To sustain the current installation rate, we need to demonstrate confidence that justifies the annual investment of $100 million or so.

Critical factors in economic viability of PV
DuPont has broad capabilities under one roof. It offers materials, solar cell design, and processes integrated with panel engineering. Speaking about Critical factors in economic viability of PV – materials matter – Conrad Burke, global marketing director, DuPont PV Solutions, said that material suppliers have a distinct advantage to view trends. The industry can expect consolidation among large PV module producers and large materials suppliers.

There is an increasing dependence on materials suppliers for processes, tech support and roadmap. There is renewed attention to long-term reliability and quality of materials in PV products.

There is a race for survival among panel producers. There are dropping prices for solar panels, and quality is getting compromised. There are reduced incentives in established markets. The market will continue to grow. Key factors that determine investment return for PV include lifetime, efficiency and cost.

When materials fail, the consequences are dire. There are failures such as encapsulant discoloration, backsheet failure, glass delamination, etc. Average defect rates in new-build modules has been increasing. Significant number of PV installations do not deliver the projected RoI. The system lifetime is as important as cost and incentives.

Solar cell power continues to improve. There have been improvements from metal pastes and processes. Performance loss impacts the RoI. The US Department of Energy hired JPL to develop 30-year PV modules. Recent cost pressures have led to the dramatic changes in module materials and a lack of transparency.

Analyzing modules from the recent service environments show performance issues. Certification does not mitigate risk. Tests do not predict the actual field performance. He showed tier-1 solar panel manufacturing problems from China, Japan and the USA. Backsheet is critical to protect solar panels. Few materials have lengthy field experience. We will continue to see drop in prices for solar panels and opening of new markets. Focus for PV module makers will remain efficiency, etc.
Read more…

10 key trends for global PV industry

February 11, 2013 3 comments

Finlay Colville, vice president, NPD Solarbuzz, USA, recently presented the 10 key trends for the PV industry. According to him, the 10 key trends are:

1. PV demand growth. The industry has been characterized by strong growth rates of 25 percent to >100 percent Y/Y for the past decade. Now, the industry needs to plan for growth at more modest levels.

2. Globalization of PV demand. The emerging regions emerged for PV demand in 2012.

3. China end-market demand in 2013. China is forecast to account for approximately 25 percent global demand in 2013. The emerging demand is confined to a select group of countries across the three emerging regions.

4. Capacity imbalance reset. The nameplate capacity levels at the 60-GW level are often cited. However, the the PV industry currently has an ‘effective’ capacity of 41-42 GW. Therefore, demand needs to exceed 40 GW for proper reset.

Top module suppliers.

Top module suppliers.

5. Competitive shakeout. The top-10 module suppliers by MW for 2012 only comprised 50 percent of the year shipments. Also, a similar pattern is seen for c-Si cell production. We can expect another two years of shakeout on the supply side.

6. Cost and price rationalization. Every segment of the supply side is subject to price/cost pressure: from poly to BoS supply. Even reducing the silicon/nonsilicon costs of modules to 53c/W level by the end of 2013 may still result in negative gross margins.

7. Supply and demand rationalization. The poly suppliers have been operating at reduced utilization since 2H’12.

8. Evolution of PV technology roadmaps. Strong marketshare gains from standard c-Si multi ingot/wafers. The end-markets are driving module efficiencies and power ratings. The alternative growth methods have not gained traction and are being phased out.

9. Capital expenditure cyclic patterns. The PV process equipment suppliers have been impacted severely by overcapacity and overinvestments of 2010 and 2011. There is a strong chance that 2014 will end up as low as 2013. Also, technology-buy cycles don’t exist as yet in the PV industry.

10. Domestic protectionism counter measures. The effects of trade wars may yet have a profound effect on the PV industry into 2014. There will be direct effect of global overinvestment into domestic manufacturing. The other countries have an impact, but China and Europe decisions are key.

In summary, the PV industry is a 30-GW end-market today, and is forecast to grow to the 40-GW level in 2015. Europe demand is declining, but greater number of countries/territories expected to provide new PV demand. Demand in China during 2013 is essential for local suppliers.

The PV industry is capable of producing 12-15 GW per quarter. Supply and demand need a 40-GW+ market to balance. The shakeout phase is proceeding slowly, and will continue for the next two years. Reducing costs are not yet keeping up with price declines. ASP and ISP stabilization period is needed badly.

The end-market demand has become dependent on low ISPs. Also, multi c-Si based modules are dominating the industry. PV equipment suppliers are unlikely to see meaningful new order intake until 2014 or beyond. Finally, trade wars and domestic protectionism measures are crucially dependent on the EU and China decisions in 2013.

Dr. Robert Castellano on how to make solar a ‘hot’ sector again – 1


Last week, I was very fortunate enough to be able to get into a conversation with Dr. Robert N. Castellano, president of  The Information Network, based in New Tripoli, USA. It all started with a column, which he writes regularly in “The Street.” One of the recent colums of Dr. Castellano touched upon –- What could make solar hot again?
This first part will touch upon issues such as six reasons for cloudy solar skies and how to rectify the current oversupply situation in solar cell manufacturing, status of a-Si solar cell makers, crystalline vs. thin film capacity, and impact of prices.
<span style=”font-weight:bold;”>How to rectify the solar cell oversupply?</span>
As I’d asked iSuppli too, in one of my recent posts, I also quizzed Dr. Castellano on whether the previously committed capacity expansions have caused solar cell manufacturing oversupply? Also, why had this happened and how could this be corrected?
He said: “The problem will rectify itself when demand catches up with supply, which will take several years.  Until then, suppliers are faced with lower prices and margins. I was the first to point out on March 5 2008, in my blog on Seeking Alpha in an article entitled “Contradictions in the Solar Industry” that “The solar industry is faced with a huge oversupply of solar panels planned for production in 2008, but no one seems to notice… or care. Shares in many solar companies such as Evergreen Solar), First Solar  SunPower, and Suntech Power have surged with the booming solar market.”
<span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Six reasons for cloudy solar skies</span>
He added: “On November 18, 2008, in another blog on Seeking Alpha entitled “Six Reasons for Cloudy Skies on the Solar Energy Industry”  that the problems in the solar industry were the result of the following:
1. With oil at $60 a barrel, who cares about alternative energy? It is a short sighted view, but with the credit market crunch, who can get a loan to build solar plants anyway?”
2. The high price of oil in the past year was a catalyst for the development in other alternative energy sources, and not just solar! Advances in wind, geothermal and hydropower energy are reducing the cost of wind power to a point at which it is becoming competitive with traditional energy sources. Nuclear power plants — smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes — will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory, which developed the first atomic bomb. Among these alternative energy sources, hydropower and nuclear have the lowest carbon footprints (carbon dioxide produced during operation).
3. Spain, a huge buyer of solar, reduced its incentive program to aid buyers in 2009. In California, a seemingly green state, Prop. 7 was defeated in the November election with a whopping 65 percent of the voters saying NO. One reason: electricity consumers would pay 10 percent above the market rates for renewable power forever.
4. The spot market price of six-inch solar-grade wafers have fallen to $9 from a high of $12.50 in September. This bodes poorly for thin film makers and equipment suppliers. The thin film solar panel market and hence, the equipment market grew strongly because of the shortage of polysilicon. Now that polysilicon is abundant and lower priced, why make thin film panels with 8 percent efficiency when you get 16+ percent efficiency with silicon wafers?
5. “Utilization is at only 56 percent. Our analysis of 103 solar manufacturers shows that panel production capacity in 2009 will be 15 GW whereas only 8.3 GW will be sold.
6. The dollar has appreciated strongly against the euro by nearly 25 percent. Germany is the world’s largest PV market. US solar companies have had to adjust selling prices to generate sales, reducing profit margins.”
<span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Have companies been overlooking inventory problems?</span>
In this context, weren’t the solar companies doing enough to check all of these during the downturn of Q4-08? Even the 71 days to 122 days excess supply or inventory is huge!
Dr. Castellano said: “The solar companies were benefiting from the low price of polysilicon as a result of excess inventory in that sector. They were renegotiating contract prices with the poly suppliers and dropping prices. With money in place, they continued to build capacity well into 2009.  All the factors discussed above took everyone by surprise (witness the stock market crash) and the recession has lasted much longer than initially forecast.
<span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Where does this place a-Si solar cell makers?</span>
How is all of this potentially setting the stage for the failure of multiple cell manufacturers, particularly those pursuing a-Si thin film solar cells?
He added that thin film cells are still less expensive to make and companies are working to improve their efficiency.  Also, they appear to work at stated efficiency under lower incident light conditions.
“The issue is the economics in a solar farm where they are installed. The installation price is the same as a polycrystalline panel. Since the efficiency is lower and it takes more panels to reach the same wattage as polycrystalline, it also takes more hook-ups and frames during installation.
“If the panels move, there is another factor in the motors to move them. However, the production cost is lower than the polycrystalline panels. Oerlikon, expects its lines will deliver a cost of 70 cents per watt by the end of 2010 and has achieved an initial conversion efficiency of 11 percent, which comes out to about 9.5 percent of stabilized efficiency.”
<span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Crystalline vs. thin film capacity</span>
There is still a huge amount of solar cell manufacturing capacity in crystalline silicon solar cell, rather than thin film. Are there any chances of that starting to change any time soon?
Dr. Castellano said: “Until last year, Germany had been the world’s largest solar market thanks to its feed-in tariffs, which require utilities to buy all the solar energy produced at premium, government-set prices. As a result, analysts now expect Germany, which doesn’t have an annual cap like the one in Spain, to become the biggest market again in 2009.Germany installed 1.35 gigawatts of solar energy systems in 2008, and it could add another 1.5 gigawatts in 2009.
“Spain took the lead last year, but the government has since reduced the subsidies and capped the amount of energy that could be sold under the subsidy program. The financial market crisis has made it difficult for developers to line up financing for solar power projects. Spain, which added a few gigawatts of solar in 2008 alone, now has a 500-megawatt cap for 2009. All of these forces have led to an oversupply of silicon panels.
“As governments — Germany and Spain were a driving force – in the solar industry’s run-up, they were a factor in the downturn. Once the recession is over and liquidity returns, they will mitigate the overcapacity, particularly as prices are so low and there is pent-up demand for new installations.”
<span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Impact of Q4 on overall prices and industry</span>
Another aspect worth examining is the overall impact of this (Q4) on overall prices and the industry.
Dr. Castellano said that silicon used to sell for more than $300 per kilogram on the spot market and $150 per kilogram for long-term contracts a few years ago. Silicon prices have since fallen significantly over the past year. In fact, the long-term contract price has dropped about 50 percent, close to the spot market price of $67 per kilogram, or about $0.50 per watt.
“Polysilicon panels are selling at $2.25 to $2.50 per watt from $4.17 in Q2 2008. We expect prices to decline further throughout the remainder of the year,” he noted.
In part 2 of this conversation, I will be discussing additional capacity in solar, new capacity in India, and of course, lessons to learn for the Indian solar industry. Watch this space, folks!
Dr. Robert N. Castellano, president, The Information Network

Dr. Robert N. Castellano, president, The Information Network

Last week, I was very fortunate enough to be able to get into a conversation with Dr. Robert N. Castellano, president of  The Information Network, based in New Tripoli, USA. It all started with a column, which he writes regularly in “The Street.” One of the recent colums of Dr. Castellano touched upon –- What could make solar hot again?

This first part of our conversation will touch upon industry issues such as — six reasons for cloudy solar skies and how to rectify the current oversupply situation in solar cell manufacturing, status of a-Si solar cell makers, crystalline vs. thin film capacity, and impact of prices.

How to rectify the solar cell oversupply?
Since I’d asked iSuppli too, in one of my recent posts, I also quizzed Dr. Castellano on whether the previously committed capacity expansions have caused solar cell manufacturing oversupply? Also, why had this happened and how could this be corrected?

He said: “The problem will rectify itself when demand catches up with supply, which will take several years.  Until then, suppliers are faced with lower prices and margins. I was the first to point out on March 5 2008, in my blog on Seeking Alpha in an article entitled “Contradictions in the Solar Industry” that “The solar industry is faced with a huge oversupply of solar panels planned for production in 2008, but no one seems to notice… or care. Shares in many solar companies such as Evergreen Solar), First Solar  SunPower, and Suntech Power have surged with the booming solar market.”

Six reasons for cloudy solar skies

He added: “On November 18, 2008, in another blog on Seeking Alpha entitled “Six Reasons for Cloudy Skies on the Solar Energy Industry”  that the problems in the solar industry were the result of the following:

1.
With oil at $60 a barrel, who cares about alternative energy? It is a short sighted view, but with the credit market crunch, who can get a loan to build solar plants anyway?”
2. The high price of oil in the past year was a catalyst for the development in other alternative energy sources, and not just solar! Advances in wind, geothermal and hydropower energy are reducing the cost of wind power to a point at which it is becoming competitive with traditional energy sources. Nuclear power plants — smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes — will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory, which developed the first atomic bomb. Among these alternative energy sources, hydropower and nuclear have the lowest carbon footprints (carbon dioxide produced during operation).
3. Spain, a huge buyer of solar, reduced its incentive program to aid buyers in 2009. In California, a seemingly green state, Prop. 7 was defeated in the November election with a whopping 65 percent of the voters saying NO. One reason: electricity consumers would pay 10 percent above the market rates for renewable power forever.
4. The spot market price of six-inch solar-grade wafers have fallen to $9 from a high of $12.50 in September. This bodes poorly for thin film makers and equipment suppliers. The thin film solar panel market and hence, the equipment market grew strongly because of the shortage of polysilicon. Now that polysilicon is abundant and lower priced, why make thin film panels with 8 percent efficiency when you get 16+ percent efficiency with silicon wafers?
5. “Utilization is at only 56 percent. Our analysis of 103 solar manufacturers shows that panel production capacity in 2009 will be 15 GW whereas only 8.3 GW will be sold.
6. The dollar has appreciated strongly against the euro by nearly 25 percent. Germany is the world’s largest PV market. US solar companies have had to adjust selling prices to generate sales, reducing profit margins.”

Have companies been overlooking inventory problems?
In this context, weren’t the solar companies doing enough to check all of these during the downturn of Q4-08? Even the 71 days to 122 days excess supply or inventory is huge!

Dr. Castellano said: “The solar companies were benefiting from the low price of polysilicon as a result of excess inventory in that sector. They were renegotiating contract prices with the poly suppliers and dropping prices. With money in place, they continued to build capacity well into 2009.  All the factors discussed above took everyone by surprise (witness the stock market crash) and the recession has lasted much longer than initially forecast.

Where does this place a-Si solar cell makers?

How is all of this potentially setting the stage for the failure of multiple cell manufacturers, particularly those pursuing a-Si thin film solar cells?
He added that thin film cells are still less expensive to make and companies are working to improve their efficiency.  Also, they appear to work at stated efficiency under lower incident light conditions.

“The issue is the economics in a solar farm where they are installed. The installation price is the same as a polycrystalline panel. Since the efficiency is lower and it takes more panels to reach the same wattage as polycrystalline, it also takes more hook-ups and frames during installation.

“If the panels move, there is another factor in the motors to move them. However, the production cost is lower than the polycrystalline panels. Oerlikon, expects its lines will deliver a cost of 70 cents per watt by the end of 2010 and has achieved an initial conversion efficiency of 11 percent, which comes out to about 9.5 percent of stabilized efficiency.”

Crystalline vs. thin film capacity

There is still a huge amount of solar cell manufacturing capacity in crystalline silicon solar cell, rather than thin film. Are there any chances of that starting to change any time soon?

Dr. Castellano said: “Until last year, Germany had been the world’s largest solar market thanks to its feed-in tariffs, which require utilities to buy all the solar energy produced at premium, government-set prices. As a result, analysts now expect Germany, which doesn’t have an annual cap like the one in Spain, to become the biggest market again in 2009.Germany installed 1.35 gigawatts of solar energy systems in 2008, and it could add another 1.5 gigawatts in 2009.

“Spain took the lead last year, but the government has since reduced the subsidies and capped the amount of energy that could be sold under the subsidy program. The financial market crisis has made it difficult for developers to line up financing for solar power projects. Spain, which added a few gigawatts of solar in 2008 alone, now has a 500-megawatt cap for 2009. All of these forces have led to an oversupply of silicon panels.

“As governments — Germany and Spain were a driving force – in the solar industry’s run-up, they were a factor in the downturn. Once the recession is over and liquidity returns, they will mitigate the overcapacity, particularly as prices are so low and there is pent-up demand for new installations.”

Impact of Q4 on overall prices and industry

Another aspect worth examining is the overall impact of this (Q4) on overall prices and the industry.

Dr. Castellano said that silicon used to sell for more than $300 per kilogram on the spot market and $150 per kilogram for long-term contracts a few years ago. Silicon prices have since fallen significantly over the past year. In fact, the long-term contract price has dropped about 50 percent, close to the spot market price of $67 per kilogram, or about $0.50 per watt.

“Polysilicon panels are selling at $2.25 to $2.50 per watt from $4.17 in Q2 2008. We expect prices to decline further throughout the remainder of the year,” he noted.

In part 2 of this conversation, I will be discussing additional capacity in solar, new capacity in India, and of course, lessons to learn for the Indian solar industry. Watch this space, folks!

ISA’s BV Naidu on India’s way forward in semiconductors

June 17, 2009 Comments off

B.V. Naidu, Group Chief Executive Officer, Genexx Enpower Corp. Pvt. Ltd, and currently Vice chairman Of Matrix Enport and Group CEO, VANPIC Projects, recently took over as the chairman of the India Semiconductor Association (ISA). He brings over 23 years of experience in developing the IT industry across India as part of the Department of Information Technology/Software Technology Parks of India (STPI).

Naidu’s tenure at ISA’s helm should turn out to be a very interesting one, given that India now has a new Union Government and Union Cabinet in place, and the latest Union Budget is likely to be announced soon. In this interview, Naidu also talks about the industry’s expectations from the Central Government, on the fabs vs. fabless debate, and on the need for building a system for incubating Indian start-ups, respectively.

A very interesting development would be the ISA’s proposal of the India Semiconductor Vision 2020 Document for the country. When this document is tabled, it should interest those countries, and companies, looking to invest in India — as the document would lay out all of the clear, long term goals for the Indian semiconductor industry. Exciting times seem to be ahead for the Indian semiconductor industry. Excerpts:

Main goal for ISA
Naidu said that the ISA needs to get adopted to the changing dynamics in the industry with the increasing domestic market. It is necessary for India to enhance the product design capabilities — which are made in India for India. In view of this, the ISA is enhancing its scope to cover the embedded software and systems companies.

“As a result of the new semiconductor policy, there has been spurt of the growth of the solar PV industry in the country. ISA has spearheaded the semicon policy, ISA is also covering the solar PV industry. Thereby, ISA is spreading its reach to cover the embedded software, electronic products as well as photovoltaic sectors,” he said.

Top five points on ISA’s agenda
BV Naidu: According to ISA, these should be:

i. ISA would work along with industry, academia and the Government, and formulate the strategy for the growth of fabulous design companies, product design companies, ecosystem companies and solar PV companies.
ii. ISA would also propose the India Semiconductor Vision 2020 Document for the country.
iii. ISA would enhance its activities focusing on increased product desired companies.
iv. ISA will put up a plan for working along with entrepreneurs, mentors, venture capitalists and academic institutions to enhance entrepreneurship and IP creation.
v. ISA will work with the Union Government to enhance the growth of the solar PV sector, its visibility and Government incentives to make this industry viable for growth in India.

Building semiconductor ecosystem in India

BV Naidu said that the ISA is taking several steps. These are:

ISA will strive to enhance the strategic value to its member companies — semicon, systems and solar — by creating balanced eco system around the its stakeholders — industry, government and academia.

ISA should be accepted as a tier 1 industry body and think tank/advisory body for influencing policy for the Central and State governments. ISA would also encourage an entrepreneurship ecosystem focus in innovation and design. As for talent, ISA will aim for 100 PhD enrollments in research in medical and energy over the next five years.

With regard to what ISA would be doing in the coming year and in the current economic scenario, it would include the following:

For the government:

* Aim to remove anomalies in duty structure for semicon companies (Mo Fin/Com).
* Grow further fabless design companies in India (DIT).
* Roadmap for electronic manufacturing in India (NMCC).
* Take forward recommendations of SPV report (MNRE).
* Take forward the Semicon Policy implementation.
* Strengthen ties with state governments.

For SMEs/startups:

* Create platforms for mentoring & funding interaction with VCs.
* Make the ISA website a resource centre on the Indian semicon industry.

Market facing activities:

* Increase domestic market.
* Made in India for India.
* Increase competitiveness of product design, mfg & market reach.
* Position India as solar PV hub.
* Publish market sales data on a quarterly basis.

For talent:

* Aim for at least 20 PhD enrollments in research in medical and energy over the next 12 months.

Education and research perspectives
BV Naidu added that the participation of education and research would be as follows:

* Aim for 100 PhD enrollments in research in medical and energy over the next five years.
* Close working partnership between ISA and VSI to drive research agenda.
* Strong existing commitment to this agenda from VSI through corpus.
* Need each ISA member to sponsor at least one full time PhD student each year over the next five years.
* Commitment to be financial (Rs 25,000 pm), mentoring and test chips.
* Sponsorship amount will also cover international paper presentation, faculty support, kits, etc.
* ISA will work with DST to potentially match the aid from industry.
* VSI will work with universities and sponsoring companies to identify and mentor the scholars.
* All fundamental IP from the research will be available to the pool of sponsoring companies.

ISA’s goal is to drive the fundamental pre-competitive semiconductor research in medical and energy in India.

Boosting semicon manufacturing
According to BV Naidu: India’s chip manufacturing has been restricted to captive centers for defense and aerospace to date. The announcement of the semiconductor policy 2007 is likely to see the opening of doors to global investors in both chip manufacturing and its ecosystem, and related hi-tech manufacturing.

The Government of India has announced a national semiconductor policy. It seeks to establish India as an attractive destination for global investors. The policy has financial subsidies and it is necessary that due diligence takes place before these benefits are sanctioned. The appointment of the Appraisal Committee and the setting up of guidelines to evaluate investments are the key for the long-term effectiveness of the policy and to build the sector.

The solar photovoltaic industry has received a real boost with the introduction of this policy and given India an opportunity to be a global player. It has also opened up opportunities for investments and employment.

Given the current economic climate, it would not be an uncommon request if the semicon policy is extended from 2010 to at least 2014/2015!

“ISA, particularly, will work along with the Government of India and various state governments to create manufacturing clusters around the country. The ISA also conducts the Excite exhibition to bring all the ecosystem players who could bring the manufacturing industry together,” he added.

Fabs vs. fabless
Fabs vs. fabless has been an interesting debate. What should be the way forward for the Indian industry?

BV Naidu said: “Currently, the Indian semiconductor companies mainly focus on IC design services comprising VLSI design, board design and embedded software and are mostly in services, with a small number of product companies. There is also some amount of board level fabrication and testing activity.

“India has the potential to become a global design centre and a leader in product design, development, testing, fabrication and distribution. As a strategy, one should focus initially on product design, development, assembly and test, while leveraging wafer fabrication capability from the most competitive sources in the region.”

Incubating start-ups
We haven’t seen many start-ups in the recent past. How can the India industry go about trying to build a system for incubating Indian start-ups?

BV Naidu: It would be appropriate if the Government of India could provide seed and start-up capital for the new ventures and set up a focused venture fund of about Rs 200 crores. The technology development board could administer these funds and the fund may provide up to 80% of the approved project cost with equity balance being brought in by entrepreneur.

The Government can also subsidize the acquisition of EDA tools by start-ups and other SMEs in this sector.

Prototype development centers with adequate fabrication facilities can be set up as well. These centers can be managed by industry associations. Recurring costs could be met by charging user fees. ISA can be given a grant for this purpose.

The above steps will encourage entrepreneurship eco-system focus in innovation and design.

Finally, what are the industry’s expectations from the new Central government?

BV Naidu said that the key areas of focus include the following:

a) Semiconductor manufacturing
i. Extension of Semicon Policy

b) Semiconductor design
i. STPI extension
ii. Transfer Pricing

c) Solar PV
i. Duty structure (point no. 3 under chapter VII on Solar PV in our pre-budget memo).

We have also made the following requests with the Government of India:

* Significance of semiconductor industry – need to accord it National Agenda status.
* Government of India Semiconductor Policy 2007 – suggested amendments.
* Domestic electronics hardware manufacturing – proposals to enhance its competitiveness.
* Fabless design companies – recommendations for growth.
* Semiconductor related research – a focus area.
* Other key proposals
* Solar PV manufacturing – Recommendations to promote domestic industry.

Opportunities in India’s solar/PV landscape: SEMI India


Solar/photovoltaics (PV) holds tremendous potential and promise for India, a fact not hidden from anyone. To further highlight its importance, SEMI India unveiled its first paper on Solar PV in India yesterday afternoon.

More action from Indian government needed
The meet called for more action from the government of India, a more closer industry-government collaboration, as well as the need for financial institutions to pay more attention to the solar/PV segment in India.

The photo here shows from left to right: Dr. Madhusudan V. Atre, President, Applied Materials India; Dr. J. Gururaja, Renewable Energy Action Forum & Executive President, SEMI India; K. Subramanya, CEO, Tata BP Solar; and Sathya Prasad, president, SEMI India.

Touching on the rationale for this SEMI paper on solar/PV’s landscape in India, Dr. J. Gururaja, Renewable Energy Action Forum and Executive President, SEMI India, said it was meant to project the solar/PV industry’s perspective: where we are and what needs to be done! This is a first account report and will be followed by many other such reports.

He said: “Solar in general, and PV in particular, can address the challenges that we face today. Solar/PV has a special attraction. It converts solar to electricity without involving any moving parts.”

He added that although the industry has been looking at the potential, the markets have not been expanding as expected. “We need to see what can be done and achieved. This report is a stock-taking exercise,” he pointed out.

Case for solar/PV in India
Sathya Prasad, president of SEMI India, touched upon the case for PV in India. These include:
* The existing power deficit situation in many parts of the country.
* India’s brisk economic growth implies rising energy needs.
* Overdependence on coal for electricity generation — limited coal reserves and CO2 emissions.
* Overdependence on oil and natural gas imports — it accounts for 7 percent of GDP and consequent energy security concerns.

According to him, India is abundantly endowed with solar radiation. So far, so good!

Key PV opportunities for India
According to SEMI’s paper, the key PV opportunities for India lie in off-grid applications and grid-connected PV. The off-grid applications include:
* Basic lighting and electrification of rural homes.
* Irrigation pump sets.
* Power back-up for cellular base station towers — approximately, there will be 2.9 lakh base station towers by the end of 2009.
* Urban applications — such as street lighting, etc.

The opportunities in grid-connected PV exist in:
* The current grid connected PV generation capacity is very small.
* Existing power deficit and huge projected future need.
* The cost point of PV has been declining continuously with technology improvements and scale.

Benefits of PV in India
The benefits of PV in India extend well beyond addressing energy needs. For instance, renewable energy technologies create more jobs than any fossil fuel based technologies. It also creates jobs across the value chain — from R&D to manufacturing, installation and maintenance. Sathya Prasad highlighted MNRE’s point that about 100,000 jobs could be created out of PV.

PV also has the capability of transforming lives. About 450 million Indians today manage with kerosene/other fuels for very basic lighting despite its significant health and safety risks. In this context, special mention needs to be made of the Aryavarta Grameen Bank’s home electrification program.

Challenges for PV in India
Evidently, a bunch of opportunities are awaiting India in the solar/PV space. However, several challenges need to be overcome as well. These would be:
* Need for closer industry-government co-operation.
* Need for standards.
* Need for collaborative, goals driven R&D.
* Training and human resources development
* Need for financing infrastructure and models.

So, what are the recommendations of this paper on solar/PV landscape in India, and further call to action? These are:
* Need to evolve a common government-industry vision to make India a world leader in PV.
* Develop financing infrastructure and models that will motivate large-scale PV adoption and investments.
* Expand development of PV in off-grid applications.
* Accelerate grid-connected PV generation on a large scale.

Call for low carbon growth strategy
“Low carbon growth path is universal now. To make that happen, there needs to be a political will,” advised K. Subramanya, CEO, Tata BP Solar, and chairman SEMI India PV Advisory Committee, while presenting his perspective on the solar/PV industry in India.

There has been little action on part of the government of India. “This needs to be implemented on the ground. We need policy and lifestyle innovation,” he added. Subramanya cautioned that, “Too much of analysis will result in paralysis.” According to him, separate budgets are required for a low carbon growth strategy. “Solar has tremendous potential. Even its learning curve is brilliant,” Subramanya noted.

He added that if the European Union (EU) can make a low carbon journey so smoothly, then why not India? For instance, in Karnataka state alone, the demand is said to be 6700MW and a 10-11 percent peak shortage. We have 20-odd lakh Bhagya Jyoti and Kutir Jyoti units, and around 7,870-odd street lights. If a majority of these can be replaced by solar, it could lead to tremendous savings! This could be at least 57MW for a state like Karnataka. Apparently, all of this would require an investment of Rs. 52 crores and a payback time of two years.

“Why can’t we develop a low-carbon growth path for every state in India? Imagine, what it can do for the other states,” Subramanya highlighted. “If the power sector does not do well, it will hit the country’s GDP!” Quite rightly so!!

Subramanya cited another example of solar water heaters in Karnataka. There are 32 lakh homes, of which about 5 lakh homes have solar water heaters. If more houses were to adopt these, it would result in a saving of 4,000MW of electricity! The Tata BP Solar CEO also called upon financial institutions to have a closer look at solar. Even the tariffs structure for solar/PV in India is not favorable enough.

He also touched upon US President Barack Obama’s energy plan and the actions taken, since his coming to power, and drew a parallel with India’s national action plan, which includes a solar mssion. This was released last June, but hardly any action has happened on the ground. So, there needs be changes on this front as well.

Four key aspects for solar/PV in India
Dr. Madhusudan V. Atre, president, Applied Materials India and vice chairman SEMI India PV Advisory Committee, highlighted four major aspects while presenting his perspective on the solar/PV industry. These are:
* See the advantage SEMI India brings to India. It can help bring costs down, due to the involvement of the PV Group.
* A point Dr. Atre had highlighted to me about a year back — that solar/PV is a great way to trigger manufacturing in India. He said that the solar/PV ecosystem will be a very important step in setting up a semiconductor manufacturing ecosystem in the country.
* What wireless did to telecom — perhaps, solar/PV has a similar aim! It can get rid of transmission lines and actually take power to the people!
* The Indian government-academia-industry would need to work hand-in-hand.

Global semiconductor industry could well see revival in 2010?

February 6, 2009 1 comment

“Let’s start from the very beginning! A very good place to start!!”

Hope you all remember this lovely song sung by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music!! So, what’s the connection?

Right! Last week, I blogged about how the global semiconductor industry is likely to drop by 28 percent in 2009, while the Indian industry should grow by 13.4 percent during the same period, and that, we should not get carried away by these statistics!

A moment to ponder: isn’t this drop of 28 percent too high for the global semicon industry? Or, is the situation really that bad? So, let’s start from the very beginning, and go straight to the source — Malcolm Penn!

Revival likely by 2010?
Here’s what Malcolm Penn, CEO and founder of Future Horizons, had to say: “Fraid not! It could even be lower, but remember that this is a year on year number. It is based on the following assumptions: Q4-08 down 22.5 percent vs. Q3-08; Q1-09 down 20 percent vs Q4-08; Q2 down 2 percent vs Q1; and Q3 up 12 percent vs Q2, and Q4 up 3 percent vs Q3! And, if this pattern runs true, 2010 will be up 28 percent vs 2009!”

Voila! The global semiconductor industry could well be in for a major revival next year itself! Why, even Bill McClean, president of IC Insights, took a more optimistic look at the state of the industry in light of the current global economic situation at the recently concluded SEMI ISS 2009 conference!!

Continues Penn, “The actual Q4 results (released this Sunday) were down 24.2 percent, slightly worse than our estimate.”

How to get the buzz back in semicon?
It has been said that the current situation the global semiconductor industry finds itself in was fueled by greed and short-term business goals. So, who were the culprits? Weren’t they warned earlier?

Adds Penn: “It was more complex that that! The woeful state-of-the-world economy was a consequence of debt, greed and irresponsibility; political self interests and short-term business goals, aided and abetted by compliant governments; ineffective regulators; imprudent institutions; incompetent management; irrational self delusion and vested self-interests! No one is blameless for this crisis! Concerns were raised, but the human nature is often irrational, and the ‘easy option’ always the one of choice.”

So true! Perhaps, the ‘easy option’ factor seems to be affecting the Indian semiconductor industry as well, but more of that later!

The key issue today is: what needs to be done to get the buzz back in the global semiconductor industry? The answer probably lies in the following: in the short-term, it involves rebuilding the industry confidence, and in longer term, it involves a radical return to ‘old fashioned’ business and political values.

On another note, I was curious to know how the EDA segment is doing? Penn said, “No better, no worse than normal, technology marches on, new designs accelerate in a downturn.”

Tricky memory!
Memory is another segment that’s been hit hard. In fact, the other day, someone asked me why Qimonda’s story was so important!

Another could not understand what Spansion really did, and why it had announced this January 15 that the company was exploring strategic alternatives for a sale or a merger! Doesn’t matter! Memory is a very tricky business, and semiconductors is the mother of all such tricky businesses! Perhaps, isn’t that why they once said in jest: “Real men have fabs!” Anyhow!

Coming back to memory, when can the industry expect some recovery in NAND? More importantly, will the various government interventions help? Qimonda also recently petitioned for the opening of the insolvency proceedings.

Penn is clear: “NAND will recover when the excess capacity abates, and that will take several more quarters. The government intervention won’t help, rather the opposite, and it will exacerbate the excess capacity issue.”

Fab spends to move up only by Q1-2010
Earlier, Penn predicted a recovery in 2010 with the resumption of growth in Q3 2009. What will make this happen? He says, “A recovering world GDP growth, plus a return in business confidence.”

However, those keen on fabs, do not expect the fab spends to look up any time soon! In fact, Penn estimates fab spends to start moving north not until Q1-2010 at the earliest.

The Chinese impact!
Interestingly, China is set to see negative growth of 5.8 percent during 2009. It will be worth noting how much of this this impact the global semiconductor industry.

Point one, compared to a global semicon fall of 28 percent in 2009, Penn considers a fall in China’s semicon fortunes of 5.8 percent to be ‘darned sight better!’ So, China should still be a high growth market (relatively speaking).

And India?
Like I mentioned earlier, the Indian semiconductor industry is perhaps getting affected by the ‘easy option.’ Design services continue to do well, hopefully, but when it comes to real semiconductor product companies, those are far and few.

And, I haven’t seen any real activity in the recent past that could tell me more such initiatives are in the pipeline. Nor do I think there are many attempts to even incubate such companies. On the contrary, there’s a mad rush toward solar!

No harm there! Solar is great for India and the need of the hour. However, India should not forget its semiconductor priorities as well! Indian simply cannot bank on chip design services and solar gains, and then proclaim that it has a very successful semiconductor industry! Real action is still quite far away.

I think, India needs to rethink its semiconductor strategy! It cannot survive on chip design alone.

“When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything,” concludes the song from The Sound of Music!

So, is the Indian semiconductor industry hitting the right notes? That’s going to be my next blog post, friends.

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