Posted by Tom Foremski - July 17, 2008
Semicon West, the massive chip manufacturing show is in town this week. Applied Materials [AMAT], the world's largest chip equipment company, has chosen this week to highlight its solar electronics. It is using its chip manufacturing expertise to build very large solar electric panels.
I met with Michael Splinter, CEO and key members of his team at a small media lunch at the Sony Metreon. Applied also showed off its panel (see picture) which is designed to be put on warehouse roofs, car parks and in other large installations.
Manufacturing solar panels is very similar to making chips. Both use silicon but solar cells only require a handful of process steps compared with many hundreds in making chips--and there is no need for expensive cleanrooms.
For about $100m Applied Materials will build you an automated factory that produces large solar panels for solar farms. So far, it hasn't sold any factories in the US. Applied says it hopes the US government will pass legislation that offers incentives to companies that want to manufacture solar panels here -- it doesn't make sense to ship them from thousands of miles away.
Here is a video of an Applied Materials solar panel factory:
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