Posts Tagged ‘global solar industry’

Consolidation likely in solar cell manufacturing to control oversupply, and, lessons for India!

August 12, 2009 Comments off

Thanks to Jon Cassell and Debra Jaramilla, I was able to get in a conversation with Stefan de Haan, senior analyst, iSuppli Corp., regarding the global solar PV industry. Recently, iSuppli had provided guidance on how “Half of all solar panels made this year won’t be installed in 2009!”

Correcting solar cell manufacturing oversupply
Previously committed capacity expansions have caused solar cell manufacturing oversupply. Why and how can this be corrected?

According to Stefan de Hann, the cell suppliers are already reacting, i.e., cutting back on production and delaying expansion plans. Nevertheless, a consolidation will take place, since prices won’t recover. Production cost is the key to be among the survivors. However, 2009 will see the peak of the cell/module oversupply. From 2010 on, the situation will ease slowly.

If that were the case, weren’t the companies doing enough to check all of this during the downturn of Q4-08?

de Haan added that at the end of last year (record year 2008!), everybody still expected continuous strong demand. “It took most companies longer to realize that their enormous growth expectations were not realistic. We were the first to predict the current scenario already in summer 2008, but the nearly all the companies I talked to at the PVSEC in September 2008 didn’t share this view at all.”

So, therefore, they probably weren’t checking their market carefully enough, after all!

Failure of a-Si thin film solar cell makers?
Is all of this setting the stage for the failure of multiple cell manufacturers, particularly those pursuing a-Si thin film solar cells?

According to the iSuppli analyst, those suppliers relying on standard a-Si thin film lines [AMAT/Oerlikon] will definitely face problems for several quarters. “Collapsing polysilicon prices incease the pressure on these manufacturers. There will be not only excess crystalline cell production, but also excess a-Si production,” he added.

There is also a huge amount of solar cell manufacturing capacity in crystalline silicon solar cell, rather than thin film. When will this start changing and why?

de Haan advised that both crystalline and thin film production (and installation) will continue to grow for the next years. Due to lower production costs, thin film will increase its market share gradually. In iSuppli’s current projection, it sees a thin film market share of 35-40 percent in 2013, up from 15 percent in 2008.

Lessons for India?
With consolidation likely to happen in the global solar cell manufacturing industry to control or combat oversupply, where would it all leave the the talk of building new capacity in India? As we know, back home in India, various companies are betting big on this sector.

In this regard, what are the lessons to learn for the Indian solar PV industry? Bear in mind that India is a “wild card” as far as solar demand is concerned.

According to de Haan, Companies hope for huge investments in the coming years and want to be prepared. However, in the current oversupply situation, the comparatively new Indian cell and module manufacturers will suffer from dropping prices.

He advised: “For them it is important to stay flexible with regard to polysilicon and wafer purchase. These prices won’t recover either, no need for long-term commitments. Most importantly, they need to develop their domestic market. If I was an Indian module manufacturer, I would integrate downstream and enter the installation business.”

More mature PV industry likely post solar downturn: iSuppli

Recently, iSuppli came out with a study on whether the current solar downturn will lead to a more mature photovoltaic industry! According to iSuppli, severe downturn in the global PV market in 2009 could actually have a more positive outcome for the global solar industry, yielding a more mature and orderly supply chain when growth returns.

Worldwide installations of PV systems will decline to 3.5 Gigawatts (GW) in 2009, down 32 percent from 5.2GW in 2008. With the average price per solar watt declining by 12 percent in 2009, global revenue generated by PV system installations will plunge by 40.2 percent to $18.2 billion, down from $30.5 billion in 2008.

“For years, the PV industry enjoyed vigorous double-digit annual growth in the 40 percent range, spurring a wild-west mentality among market participants,” said Dr. Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst for iSuppli.

“An ever-rising flood of market participants attempted to capitalize on this growth, all hoping to claim a 10 percent share of market revenue by throwing more production capacity into the market. This overproduction situation, along with a decline in demand, will lead to the sharp, unprecedented fall in PV industry revenue in 2009,” he added.

What about new entrants?
I quizzed Dr. Wicht how this downturn would lead to a more mature PV industry and what about the new entrants?

Dr. Wicht said: “We expect that the solar industry will invest more softly. The years 2007/2008 were special. Each of the hundreds of suppliers were ready to invest to reach 10 percent market share. This is not likely to repeat.” Interesting! “Also, the new entrants will invest more modestly and closely linked to fixed customer orders,” he added.

Role of FIs in solar
Are financial institutions paying that much importance to solar, especially in places such as India? This is an issue that was also raised and discussed at the recently held SEMI India solar/PV paper launch.

According to Dr. Wicht, the financial investors are definitely looking into solar, mainly in Europe and US. “PV in India is still at the very beginning. From my experience, there is not yet much attention of financial investors for PV in India,” he noted.

Off-grid or grid connected apps?
Turning the discussion to off-grid vs. grid connected applications, I sought Dr. Wicht’s advice on the route that should be followed. Again, this topic was discussed during the SEMI India meet early this month. Hence, the interest for India in this field is significant!

Dr. Wicht highlighted: “Installations for the off-grid remains a small portion in terms of the sold modules (MW), about 5 percent. The off-grid system selling might be a good way to start in places such as India. For cell and module production, on-grid is where the volumes are needed.” Hope the Indian solar photovoltaics industry takes note of this valuable advice — and it holds good for other regions as well.

I also asked him regarding a good low carbon growth strategy for developing countries. Dr. Wicht said that depending on the place, it could be a combination of wind, solar and biomass.

Compensating for Spanish whiplash!
According to iSuppli’s study, the single event most responsible for the PV market slowdown in 2009 was a sharp decline in expected PV installations in Spain. Also, beyond Spain, the PV market is being adversely impacted by the credit crunch.

Therefore, why won’t attractive investment conditions in other some countries compensate for the Spanish whiplash?

Dr. Wicht said: “The investigated countries start from a low level of installations and show long, administrative procedures, limits of feed-in tarifs and reduced capital access. They simply cannot compensate the 2.6GW of Spain in 2008.”

Finally, what is likely to happen after the shakeout or fall in the coming years? He added: “System demand will grow stronger from H2-2010, absorbing the inventory, which has been built up in 2009 and 2010. From 2011, demand for modules will rise. It might pick up quickly. Then, companies, which are able to supply on short notice/(flexibility) can gain market share.”

Let me see if I can convince Dr. Wicht to visit India and share his insights with the Indian solar/PV industry. Last, but not the least, thanks Jon!

Dramatic price forecast to reshape PV industry: iSuppli

January 16, 2009 Comments off

I was very fortunate to attend a webinar on solar PV a couple of days back, thanks to iSuppli, USA. The webinar looked at:

* Polysilicon — what is going on in the market?
* Cells and modules — where will the prices go?

Dr. Henning Wicht, senior director and principal analyst, iSuppli, made it clear that the intention was to show what’s coming out of primary industry research.

He said: “We believe that solar is a fantastic market. It has been growing over the last four years by revenue. It will continue to grow! There are not many industries with a growth path like that! However, in last the 18 months, the supply has been disconnected from demand.”

This is exactly the point iSuppli addressed in its webinar. Dr. Wicht was accompanied by Stefan de Haan, senior analyst, photovoltaics, iSuppli.

iSuppli’s recent findings are:
* Severe supply chain imbalances exist at polysilicon/wafer and cell/module levels.
* Short term polysilicon and module prices will decrease significantly.

Polysilicon: What’s going on with supply and pricing?
If you looked at the global solar PV industry, many plants are under construction, and there are huge capacity expansion plans. There has been a dramatic decrease in production. In 2008, iSuppli estimated total production of solar PV at 60,000 metric tons. In 2009, about 100,000 metric tons will be produced!

What are the reasons for this supply situation? In 2005-06, the high margins of this industry attracted several newcomers. The cycle time to ramp up a polysilicon plant is 24-36 months, and including another 12 months to get finance, it takes about four years.

He said: “The decisions taken in year 2005-06 are coming to the market now. This is also why we see the big ramp in 2009-10. This is also the reason why the industry will have big difficulties to react on a short term notice. The polysilicon industry is a big super tanker, which has difficulties to maneuver on short term.”

Looking at the demand side of things, iSuppli showed a graph where the two curves — polysilicon supply and polysilicon demand meet, or rather cross, in early 2010. From that point on, the supply line passes the demand line. “That means, from that time onward, we definitely see prices for polysilicon decreasing,” he said.

What will happen in 2009?
The key point to note is that the ramping rates of polysilicon and solar cells are completely different! The ramping rate of polysilicon is much steeper, than on the cell side. Polysilicon is more than doubling, while the cell industry is growing at 34 percent.

According to Dr. Wicht, the gap between demand and supply is already shrinking fast in 2009, which will lead to a price decrease in 2009.

Coming to prices, the polysilicon market boasts two kinds of prices — long term and spot market. According to Dr. Wicht, the long term prices are already decreasing from around $100/kg in 2008, and it is expected to be around $80/kg in 2009.

On the other hand, the spot market price peaked in 2008 at around $400/kg. Now, it has already dropped. It will continue to drop, far beyond today’s long term contract price, which will then, from 2010 onward, make up another round of discussion. This is because companies might tend to get out of their long term contracts to secure their silicon on the spot!

Summarizing, he said that polysilicon production will increase heavily. Next, supply will pass demand from 2010 onward, and then the industry will enter the oversupply situation for the next three to four years. The polysilicon industry will also react. In fact, iSuppli anticipates a recent announcement from a solar PV company to expand production capacity would be the last for quite a while!

What about projects on the way? These projects have to come on to the market and many of those will! This is precisely the reason why the industry will see silicon passing solar cells in capacity over the next few years.

Stefan de Haan added that the output of the PV modules industry will grow. The total module prod will likely grow to 11GW this year and to 20GW in 2012. Thin film modules will continuously gain market share and it probably account for 1/3rd of the total market by 2012. Production of crystalline cells will run in parallel. It is likely to reach 9GW for 2009 and 18GW for 2012.

Commenting on the competitive landscape, he added that many new players would be entering production in 2009, especially in the thin film business. “However, the current leaders — QCells, Suntech and First Solar — will increase their edge over the competition in terms of absolute production volumes,” he said.

In general, it is a good thing that the industry is growing and that all of this capacity is coming online. However, this raises the question: can demand can keep up with the supply?

According to iSuppli, in 2009, the installation market will be flattening. In the sense, iSuppli projects that 4.2GW will be installed this year, or about 10 percent growth. However, this growth is much smaller in comparison to the previous years. Some of the reasons for slower growth in 2009 include changes in sustained feed-in tariffs and the global economic slowdown.

Hann added, “In H2-2010, module demand will probably return to the previous growth rates, of more than 20 percent per year.”

Combining demand and supply, there is a massive oversupply of modules that has already been building up since early 2008. Back in 2008, this did not impact on the module prices as there was short term heavy demand from countries like Germany and Spain, from project developers and installation companies, etc. So, this was not noticeable earlier. However, in 2009, the oversupply situation is quite serious!

As a consequence, many suppliers will not be able to react to this situation in the short term. They will still need to run their factories to try and generate some revenue and satisfy the industry. Many had bet on some strong demand coming from USA and also China.

This year, the module prices will decline. Consequently, the declining prices will also create some additional demand. However, for the next two years, this fundamental oversupply situation will not change.

How far will prices drop?
So, what are the message for 2009? First, crystalline module prices will drop to about $2.50 per watt, and second, cost is going to be the differentiating factor! This was a point emphasized strongly by the iSuppli analysts.

Further, how should companies manage this situation, where supply is disconnected by demand? According to Dr. Wicht, there is 11.1GW of module supply vs. 4.2GW of installations. “We do not see that the demand is elastic and that everything will be good after the end of 2009. The gap is too large between demand and supply, and will last till end of 2010.”

Installation capacity will surely become a bottleneck. There will be falling prices for silicon, as well as solar cells and modules. Also, the demand is not that elastic enough to absorb all modules produced.

Therefore, given this situation, what are the options for success, rather, what are the ideas to re-orient the solar PV business?

The first option could be to shut down 50 percent of production till price recovers. However, this is not a realistic option. Another could be to put expansion plans on hold. Yet another option for producers would be to become the best in class in production cost, an option, which is excellent, but difficult!

Probably, the best option would be for makers to integrate downstream. This includes new demand simulation in established markets as well as developing new markets.

Dr. Wicht said: “Anticipating bottlenecks are key for solar. The next bottlenecks are the bureaucracy and installation capacity. The production capacity would not be influential. Production cost and downstream integration are key.” He advised solar PV producers to monitor their PV market demand and supply situation regularly.

Reviewing global/Indian semicon industry in 2008 — top posts

January 3, 2009 Comments off

Greetings, dear readers and friends, in the new year. May you all have all the success and prosperity in 2009!

An eventful year in semiconductors has passed by us. For me, personally, it has been a tremendous 2008, ending with Electronics Weekly of UK selecting my blog (Pradeep Chakraborty’s Blog) as the world’s best in the Electronic Hardware category.

Lot of people have asked me since, how it feels to be a world champion! Well, I do feel elated! However, one point, more of the congratulatory notes have come from overseas, than from India. Perhaps, it is an apt indicator of how semiconductors is perceived in India — though, I may be wrong.

Friends have also asked me how I’ve managed to blog on such a difficult subject sitting in India. Simply put: It has not been easy!

First, I’m just a simple person, and not some brand name. Second, my blog does not represent any large, well known media house, or a big brand semiconductor magazine. Hence, maintaining a semicon blog, with the help of contacts from all over the world has been tough, at times. Why, some folks, with whom I wished to speak with, never even responded to my emails and requests. Quite understandable!

Third, I’ve only managed to blog, when I have the time, unlike many other great bloggers who post regularly (or daily)! Fourth, there have been several instances, where my location has been my weak point. I was unable to blog on several instances simply because I had no way of reaching people whom I wished to speak with, while sitting in India. And, as I said, I did get cold snubs on several instances! 🙂 As a result, I could not present my views at specific instances, even though I dearly wanted to!

However, the unconditional and loving support and encouragement of my family, friends, well wishers, industry leaders and loyal readers such as you have helped overcome all of these deficiencies. It is only because of these people that I’ve managed to come this far! I hope each one of you continues to have faith in me. I shall try my best to provide you with the best information (hopefully) the global semiconductor industry has to offer.

To start off the new year, may I present, what I feel, are the top blog posts on semiconductors during 2008, as a review for the past year.

Being indisposed at the start of 2008, I only managed to pick up speed from April onward. As the year progressed, the Indian fab story with SemIndia started worsening, before finally disappearing, even as fabless India held on sttong, as did the fortunes of the global semiconductor industry, which incidentally, did look quite good till September last year.

I have arranged the blog posts, from January to December 2008, so they will present a better picture of how 2008 behaved! These posts are set in no particular order or preference, otherwise. Some of you may have your own favorites, so kindly let me know, in case those haven’t made the list.

JAN 2008
Power awareness critical for chip designers
LabVIEW 8.5 delivers power of multicore processors

MAR 2008
NXP India achieves RF CMOS in single chip
VLSI as a career in India
Using ‘semicon’ simulation for drug discovery

APR 2008
New camps promise exciting times ahead in memory market
Indian design services to hit $10.96bn by 2010
Staying ahead of clock a habit at Magma!

MAY 2008
Dubai — an emerging silicon oasis
Developers, go parallel, or perish, says Intel
Think AND not OR; Altera first @ 40nm FPGAs
Top 10 global semicon predictions — where are we today
Semicon to grow 12pc in 2008
India’s growing might in global semicon

JUN 2008
10-point program for Karnataka semicon policy
Has the Indian silicon wafer fab story gone astray?
Semicon half year over, what next now?
EDA as DNA of growth

JUL 2008
Semicon is no longer business as usual!
Cadence C-to-Silicon Compiler eliminates barriers to HLS adoption
Practical to take solar/PV route: Dr. Atre, Applied

AUG 2008
What India brings to the table for semicon world! And, for Japan
NAND update: Market likely to recover in H2-09
E Ink on every smart surface!
RVCE unveils Garuda super fuel-efficient car
Indian fab policy gets 12 proposals; solar dominates

SEP 2008
90pc fab investments for 300mm capacity: SEMI
Synopsys’ Dr Chi-Foon Chan on India, low power design and solar
Magma’s YieldManager could make solar ‘rock’!
Motion sensors driving MEMS growt
BV Naidu quits SemIndia; what now of Indian fab story?

OCT 2008
Top 20 global solar photovoltaic companies
IDF Taiwan: Father of the Atom an Indian!
TI Beagle Board for Indian open source developers and hobbyists
Cadence’s Virtuoso vs. Synopsys’ Galaxy Custom Designer!
Synopsys’ Galaxy Custom Designer tackles analog mixed signal (AMS) challenges
Solar, semi rocking in India; global semi recovery in 2010?
No fabs? So?? Fabless India shines brightly!!

NOV 2008
AMD’s roadmap 2009 provides lots of answers… now, to deliver!
Embedded computing — 15mn devices not so far away!
FPGAs have adopted Moore’s Law more closely!

DEC 2008
My blog is the world’s best!
Semicon outlook 2009: Global market could be down 7pc or more
Altera on FPGAs outlook for 2009
Solar sunburn likely in 2009? India, are you listening
Outlook for solar photovoltaics in 2009!

I found it difficult to select the Top 10 posts. If any one of you can draw up such a list, it’d be great!

Outlook for solar photovoltaics in 2009!

December 30, 2008 Comments off

Friends and dear readers, this is my last blog post for 2008! Indeed, what a year this has been!!

Let me bid this year goodbye with a general outlook on the global solar photovoltaics industry for 2009.

iSuppli had recently put out a report on solar eclipse coming in 2009! I had blogged about the possible solar sunburn ahead, as well, earlier last week!

Another point that has interested me is: what happens to the top 20 global solar photovoltaic companies, based on iSuppli’s analysis! This blog post has perhaps been the most popular in recent times.

I was very lucky to re-associate with Dr. Henning Wicht, Senior Director, Principal Analyst, iSuppli Deutschland GmbH, in Munich, Germany, for this discussion, thanks to the efforts of Jon Cassell and Debra Jaramilla!

How bad is solar?
The first and the most obvious question: how bad is the global solar market right now and why?

According to iSuppli, bringing an end to eight consecutive years of growth, global revenue for photovoltaic (PV), panels is likely to plunge by nearly 20 percent in 2009, as a massive oversupply causes prices to drop!

Worldwide revenue from shipments of panels will decline to $12.9 billion in 2009, down 19.1 percent from $15.9 billion in 2008. A drop of this magnitude has not occurred in the last 10 years and likely has not happened in the entire history of the solar industry.

Dr. Henning Wicht says that the upstream part of the solar business (cell, module, etc.) will suffer from price decline due to strong oversupply. The downstream side will benefit (installation, end-user, investor, etc.) by lower system prices.

Therefore, what can the solar players do to get over this coming bad phase in 2009? Well, three things: improve the cost structure, improve the sales side, and diversify downstream… These points hold strong for all fully integrated and non-integrated solar panel suppliers as well. By the way, fully integrated solar panel suppliers are likely to suffer less severe losses than non-integrated competitors.

There must be some way around to to bring about some balance within the current imbalance in the demand and supply situation. While Dr. Wicht agrees this is a difficult one to answer this early, he adds that supply and demand are diverging heavily. “With the current trajectories even in 2012, 100 percent more modules are produced than installed,” he says. I promise to discuss this question again with the good Dr. in another six months time.

Word of wisdom
There are various support programs in place, and it is important to know whether they will continue to remain beneficial, both to support markets to become independent sustainable and to develop the regional industry.

Dr. Wicht believes the support programs are still required and beneficial. “If China, India, Mexico and other sunny regions would start to support solar installations, that could change the picture drastically,” he notes.

A note of warning for new entrants in the solar photovoltaic space! Be aware that this warning has been earlier highlighted in the global semiconductor outlook for 2009! In tune with what the various analysts have maintained earlier, iSuppli also forsees newcomers in the solar photovoltaic line having problems in getting the required credit for their projects.

What next for Europe, emerging regions?
According to iSuppli, the short-term boost in demand from Spain and Germany has kept the installation companies busy, and solar orders and module prices high. But this boom is over. So, what’s next for European players?

According to Dr. Wicht, Germany and Spain should continue their leading role as solar installation regions, even after the boom. France, Italy and Czech Republic are attractive, but still much smaller markets, he maintains.

iSuppli has also mentioned that the race to larger manufacturing scale comes to an end when the production is not sold anymore! In that case, what’s the case for the emerging nations, like China and India? Aren’t there buyers in such places?

Dr. Wicht says: “Demand in the traditional solar markets is not elastic enough to absorb all of the solar production. Potential new markets, for example, China and India, do not yet have installation capacities and administration to significantly change the global solar demand short term.”

iSuppli also feels that the newer Chinese and Taiwanese suppliers will be hit particularly hard during 2009. The reason being, many suppliers have expanded their production capacities heavily without securing equally the sales/downstream part.

Global top 20 rankings to change?
Now to the most interesting part! Most of you have read about the top 20 global solar photovoltaic suppliers. Following the iSuppli warning of a ‘solar eclipse’ in 2009, there is every likelihood that there will be changes in that table!

Dr. Wicht adds, “However, the top 10 companies are typically better placed than the competition regarding their cost structures, downstream integration and vertical integration.”

Obama’s solar plans!
Now on to yet other interesting point! The US President-elect, Barack Obama’s, New Energy for America plan could well have a significant impact on the US solar industry.

The plan’s provisions include:

• A federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires 10 percent of electricity consumed in the US to come from renewable sources by 2012.
• A $150 billion investment over 10 years in research, technology demonstration and commercial deployment of clean energy technology.
• Extension of production tax credits for five years to encourage renewable energy production.
• A cap-and-trade system of carbon credits to provide an incentive for businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Wicht says: “We all know that Obama is in favor of renewable energy. However, he will not change a 160 percent oversupply of solar panels in 2009.”

Bumpy ride to grid parity?
On another note, and a pretty favorite one: Is it going to be a “bumpy road” to grid parity? How will the subsidies be kept going?

Dr. Wicht notes: “Subsidies will continue. It will always be a bumby road because the ramping cycles differ heavily among silicon, cells, modules and the installation capacity. Please remember that the installation business will now benefit from low module prices. It will recover some of the margins it has lost in the last years due to high module prices.”

Also, up to when will polysilicon constraints last? iSuppli had earlier indicated PV strategy changes. According to Dr. Wicht, the polysilicon prices are coming down already. “Our indication from October 2008 seems to be fairly good,” he says.

Lastly, will iSuppli be still sticking by solar, semicon investments being equal by 2010?

Dr. Wicht says: “Please let me cite again our interview in October: The investments for solar production raising up to several hundreds of Mio USD, up to 1 Bio $ per production site. That is coming close to a semiconductor fab. The total capex of semiconductor is still 10 times larger than PV. However, PV is rising much faster.”

That will be all for this year, folks!

Look forward to sharing much more captivating moments in semiconductors, electronics, solar photovoltaics, telecom, etc., in 2009!

Wishing all of you a very happy, prosperous and successful 2009. Be safe and look after yourself! See you next year!! 🙂

Building a good solar ecosystem in India

September 22, 2008 1 comment

Solar/PV has been doing the rounds consistently, and has probably now become one of the most hyped sectors.

In fact, renewable energy has never ever had such a good time! As mentioned, a tremendous hype has already been built around solar photovoltaics. Several companies, in India, and elsewhere, have also jumped into the solar bandwagon.

So what are the reasons behind this ‘sudden’ interest in solar? According to Dr. Ashok Das, managing director, Solar Solutions, and a well know expert in this area, consumers do not yet drive the solar energy sector. Being energy, it is mostly driven by the government and its subsidies.

So, why has there been this ‘sudden interest’ in solar? There are two reasons.

First, the climate change issue started getting center stage at world forums, leading to policies and targets to cut global warming, and hence boosting renewable energy. Second, the soaring oil prices and continued dependence on a few countries for oil has led to the realization of the energy security.

There are several takeaways from the European experience with solar. Dr. Das says that Europe, particularly, has taken solar very seriously. They have been a leader in solar. “Germany, for instance, gave away all of the necessary subsidies to attain energy security. These subsidies have led to the solar boom. It has also led to an increased R&D to bring down the cost of solar energy.”

Nevertheless, he adds there seems to be a bubble forming in this sector, like all other booms in the past. The industry will go through consolidation as the market matures.

And where does India stand in comparison? According to Dr. Das, steps are being taken to promote solar energy in India. “As of now, the feed-in tariff is Rs. 15 for photovoltaics and Rs. 12 for thermal solar. The government also announced a mandatory 5 percent renewable energy mix in the electricity production.

“The PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) has also issued a National Action Plan that has plans for boosting solar. These subsidies are driving some of the increased activities in India.”

He contends: “We need stronger lobbying so that better subsidies can come through. Therefore, most of the manufacturing activities in India are still driven by the export markets.”

Surely, given the surge of investments in solar within India, there is every room for developing a very good ecosystem.

Dr. Das says: “Coming to the solar ecosystem, we already make solar products, as well as the modules. We also have the capability to make cells. The only part missing has been wafer, the silicon for solar.

“A few silicon factories should be coming up in India soon. So, India can easily establish the entire ecosystem for solar photovoltaics.”

Postscript: More investments in solar today, in India. According to Hindu Business Line, there have been three additional investments worth Rs. 55,000 crores.

Vavasi Telegence to invest Rs 39,000 crore for solar PV and polysilicon unit; EPV Solar to invest Rs 4,000 crore for solar PV unit; and Lanco Solar to invest Rs 12,938-crore for solar PV and polysilicon unit.

A word of caution: It’s advisable not to get carried away by all the success in solar. Solar is/was only part of the ecosystem units in the Indian semicon policy.

Don’t forget semiconductors!

While this success in solar does augur well for the solar industry in India, don’t think this is even close to what the Indian semicon policy, launched with fanfare last September, originally set out to achieve!

Synopsys’ Dr Chi-Foon Chan on India, low power design and solar

September 11, 2008 1 comment

There have been reports about the troubles within the EDA industry in recent times, especially those related with quarter sales. Interestingly, Synopsys has been the one sailing along fine! If that’s not enough, it made its intention known of playing a role on the solar/PV segment, an area where lot of investments have been happening!

Given this scenario, I was fortuitous enough, rather, extremely lucky to be able to get into a conversation with Dr. Chi-Foon Chan, President and Chief Operating Officer, Synopsys Inc., during his recent visit to India.

On the state of the global semiconductor industry, he said, it was somewhere now in the low 10s [well below 10 percent]. The EDA industry is currently tracking below that level. However, Synopsys has been growing at around 10 percent. He said, “The technology challenges today are very high.”

Synopsys has a substantial number of R&D population based out of India. Giving his assessment of the Indian semiconductor industry, Dr. Chan added: “Our main interest in India is largely talent and the academia. India can very well get more into the product development side. Even the outsourcing of designs have increased. Our capabilities, of the Indian team, have also increased.”

As with any good semiconductor ecosystem, the Indian industry also needs a proactive industry association, a role played to near perfection by the ISA (India Semiconductor Association). Acknowledging the ISA’s role, Dr. Chan said, “The ISA has also formed a very cohesive team.”

There is little doubt about India’s growing importance in technology strengths and managerial leadership. Dr. Chan added: “We are more on the high-end side and also track what others design. In India, the profiles of designs are definitely high-end in nature. This is largely due to the presence of a large number of MNCs. A very high percentage of designs are in the 45nm and 65nm process technology nodes.”

There is another significant indicator of India’s growing importance, and that is the huge rise in the attendance of the SNUG. In 2000, this event attracted 180 people. However, in 2008, the SNUG attracted over 2,000 people.

Moving India to next level
Given the very high level of commitment on Synopsys’ part toward India, there was a need to find out from Dr. Chan what exactly India needs to do to move to the next level in the value chain in the semiconductor ecosystem.

He advised: “India can do two to three things. One, for the system to grow, you need the government, academia and industry to grow together. India has all of the ingredients required to drive products.”

Comparing India with China, he highlighted the fact that while in China, the local consumption was higher than local supply, that was not the case with India!

“Therefore, looking at merely the local market is not the only thing. Products developed here can also be targeted at the Middle East and Southeast Asia.” He was quite forthright in his analysis, adding: “Industries start when you find markets. The skill sets are already present here. There can well be multiple startups.”

Dr. Chan also touched upon the fab vs. fabless issue, noting that there could well be more of fabless companies in India. “Building a fab requires lot of capital. Also, consolidation will continue to happen.”

What role does Dr. Chan see Synopsys playing in the Indian context? He said: “Synopsys will continue to be a catalyst for the industry. A healthy design industry in India continues to help us. We also work well with the Indian universities. Having more people from the universities will always help. We also invest a lot in application support. The application team also trains others. I now look forward to seeing more fabless companies here and India to become even more global.”

On low power design
India is also a centre of expertise in low power design, given that low power is hugely important in today’s electronics ecosystem. Dr. Chan commented that low power has always been the number one design issue. It cannot be taken care of at one single stage.

He added: “A slightly new concept that has emerged is low-power verification. There are so many schemes for attacking low power, such as multiple voltage islands. We (Synopsys) are spending a lot of effort in low power.

“As a designer, you require detailed analysis. Low-power verification is now coming up. Another area is testing. As an example, if so much power is required, how do you have the power cut from the tool you are using to test? From a Synopsys point of view, we are involved in several points, such as front-end synthesis, testing, sign-off, verification, etc. We are trying to put in a whole lot of methodologies.”

Synopsys in solar
EDA may be able to help by lowering power requirements and leakage on better products. Especially, the Synopsys’ TCAD product can be used to create more efficient and effective solar cells. Now, this is not a new development anymore. Synopsys, along with Magma, have already made known their intentions about setting foot in the solar/PV space.

On the TCAD, Dr. Chan said: “We have a very strong position in the TCAD, commercially. Now, it is one of our most critical elements in high-performance. Our TCAD is among the strongest in the EDA industry.

“In solar, it does not have to be a complicated place-and-route, etc. From an entire solar industry point of view, we have now used some effort from TCAD into this space. Heat transfer issues, etc., are more in the EDA space.”

I will continue my conversation with Synopsys on its solar initiative sometime later. Keep watching this space, folks

Magma’s YieldManager could make solar ‘rock’!

September 10, 2008 Comments off

Make no mistake, folks! The EDA guys are getting their act together to penetrate the solar/PV segment!! Magma’s YieldManager is a great example of that effort! Yes, we all know the troubles of the EDA industry as well as of the key players. However, let’s not ignore this initiative from Magma!

Recently, Magma Design Automation Inc. announced the development of a new yield enhancement software system, the YieldManager software system, which is customized for solar fabs to improve conversion efficiency, increase yield and reduce the manufacturing costs of solar cells.

Magma is collaborating with Pegasus Semiconductor-Solar to refine the product specifications and test the new product, based on Magma’s YieldManager.

This is an interesting development, especially from the point of view of the solar/PV industry! Even more significant is the entrance of the EDA community [the one being Synopsys] into solar/PV, a segment, which has witnessed a substantial amount of investments worldwide, and specifically, in India.

It was fun catching up with Ankush Oberai, VP, Failure Analysis Business Unit, Magma Design Automation, in Silicon Valley, to find out more about the YieldManager software system, what it can do for the solar/PV industry, and why Magma decided to venture into an ‘unchartered territory’.

The first and most obvious thing, why YieldManager?

Ankush Oberoi says that in semiconductors, yield impacting parameters which are regularly monitored are mostly extrinsic, i.e., from outside, such as particles, over-exposure, under-exposure and miss-processing. In solar cells, the yield impacting parameters are mostly intrinsic, that is, something built into the solar cell material which can NOT be easily seen. Thus, a different “eye” is needed to see the solar parameters. The “eye” is the YieldManager here!!!

It would NOT be either inspection tools or litho optical proximity correction (OPC) detector. The solar cell efficiency is directly influenced by electro-physics of solar materials. A YieldManger is required to monitor any changes in those efficiency impacting parameters.

The most important parameter is the lifetime of current-generating carriers. As the solar energy generates the “hole-electron” pairs, they are collected separately as electricity.

If the solar material is “dirty” with many crystalline boundaries as in thin film solar cells, the solar generated hole-electrons get pulled into those crystalline boundaries and do not contribute to the electricity generation.

“Thus, if we can find a solar yield management system to detect the very subtle change in carrier lifetime, then we are at home with a greatest Home Run in solar cell business,” he contends.

Given the EDA background, why did Magma decide on a yield management technology?

He adds that yield management technology was acquired by Magma as part of the Knights Technology acquisition in Nov 2006. Magma’s Fab Business Unit (formerly, Knights Technology) is a pioneer (since 1994) in yield management for semiconductor technology.

The product is deployed and used in leading fabs around the world to help manage production wafer yield. Yield management has also been deployed for mask making and LCD productions.

It would be interesting to know how Magma’s new product will allow solar fabs to better monitor all metrology, inspection and performance data throughout the manufacturing process.

Oberoi says: “For Si wafer solar cell, the most important parameter to monitor is the solar conversion efficiency impacting parameters. An example would be a carrier lifetime.

“If the carrier lifetime fluctuates more than normal, the solar Yield Manager will quickly examine all of the key data, i.e., metrology, inspection and performance data, to pinpoint out potential root-causes of the fluctuation problem.”

For thin film solar cell, particles, laser cutting integrity and film thickness uniformity would be main things to monitor. Those data are quite similarly collected, as in semiconductors, and would be monitored as similar ways. The Solar Yield Manager would do well as proven in semiconductors in this case.

Next, it is important to find out how will the YieldManager enable fab operators to identify and correct root causes of solar-efficiency and yield degradation caused by subtle fab processing fluctuations or instability.

According to Oberoi, the carrier lifetime, which could be caused by various factors, is the most critical parameter to monitor for achieving and maintaining the good solar conversion efficiency.

He says: “As the Solar Yield Manager carefully monitors those factors, blindly committing ~400,000 wafers a day can be eliminated, when critical process instability starts appearing and persists. The solar conversion efficiency impacting factors could be monitored differently by different solar fabs.”

Some fabs may not have capabilities to monitor those factors. The Solar Yield Manager would define those metrology and performance tool requirements, when released.

It is also interesting to learn how improving the energy conversion efficiency, reducing the manufacturing costs and increasing the yield of silicon wafer-based solar cells are critical to the growth of the solar market.

Currently, the Si wafer for solar cell costs $2~$2.5/watt due to the severe shortage of Si. The selling price of a solar cell is $3~$3.5/watt, that is, the material cost is 60~70 percent of the solar cell price.

No market or industry would prevail with the 60~70 percent material cost, adds Oberoi. Thus, every milli-watt squeezed out of a solar cell would be very critically important for proliferation of solar industry.

In order to increase the power output of a solar cell, the solar conversion efficiency must be maximized. Once maximized, sustaining the good solar efficiency is the name of the game in the solar cell manufacturing business.

The effective manufacturing cost will be drastically lowered, if bad solar cells with poor solar efficiency is minimally produced. That is, some fabs will use ~400,000 wafers a day to generate ~500 M-Watt a year, whereas some ~450,000 wafers to do the same with poorer solar efficiency.

Innovation in the solar fabrication process must be accelerated, and today, no other enterprise-wide yield enhancement software exists for solar fabs.

Oberoi says: “Solar cell is an old technology, but a very new industry, simply because not enough money was being invested. Now, money is pouring into the solar industry and products like solar Yield will start to appear. It is not known yet that anyone commercially has tried to develop a similar product.”

Global estimate of solar/PV industry
There are several publications with recent estimates. The annual solar cell installation in the world: Germany ~46 percent, Japan ~23 percent, USA ~9 percent, Spain ~6 percent, Italy ~4 percent, the rest of Europe ~1 percent, the rest of Asia, including India and China ~6 percent, and the rest of world ~5 percent in 2006.

Magma is currently in the design and implementation stages of the product and plan to have version 1.0 of the product commercially available in Q1-09. The company has targeted solar fabs based in Asia that are eager for early implementation of the solar yield product.

Right then: those planning or having solar fabs! Now’s the time to test that home run theory with the YieldManager.

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