Photovoltaics set to spark in Asia

The region is "incredibly important" for the solar industry, Applied Materials executive says, citing China, India and Southeast Asia as areas with high potential.

SINGAPORE--Asia is "incredibly important" for the solar or photovoltaic market, according to an industry insider.

"Where it's sunny is where you need it first," said Charles Gay, Applied Materials' president for applied solar, alluding to the increasing spend on purposes such as air conditioning. He was speaking at a media conference for Semicon Singapore 2009 and Solarcon Singapore 2009, which kicked off Wednesday in the island-state.

Photovoltaics refers to the ability to generate electricity using solar cells, and is referred to as renewable or green energy. Earlier this year, research analyst Gartner predicted that global photovoltaic market revenues will reach US$34 billion in 2013.

Globally, about US$600 billion is spent on electricity infrastructure, Gay reported. Energy expenditure in areas such as China, India and Southeast Asia, is on the rise. As the importance of climate change continues to hit home for many countries, governments in this region have been playing an active role, he added.

Dan Tracy, senior director for industry research and statistics at Semi, noted there was unexpected strong growth for photovoltaics on the global front last year.

Citing research by marketing and research consultancy Yole Developpement, Tracy said grid parity--the point at which photovoltaic electricity is equal or cheaper than the power grid--could be reached in California before 2012, followed by Italy and Spain. Once grid parity is achieved, there will be "a whole new level of investments" in the technology, he noted.

The photovoltaic industry, however, has not been immune to the economic downturn, Tracy said, adding that growth in 2009 is expected to be flat.

Semiconductor market on the mend?
Data collected by Semi as well as various industry analysts could suggest that the semiconductor market has hit the bottom and is showing signs of recovery, said Tracy.

"The industry was hit hard in the fourth quarter [of 2008] going into the first quarter [of 2009]--now we see some recovery in the sales cycle," said Tracy. The three-month average for shipments in March rose 4.5 percent over February, he shared.

In addition, Semi's fab construction forecast points to an improvement from the second quarter of 2009. Its equipment spending forecast also indicates an uptrend from the third quarter of this year.

However, Tracy noted that the industry will "take some time to pull out" of the rough patch. While Semi expects global semiconductor revenues to reach US$200 billion this year, semiconductor equipment spending worldwide will decline between 50 percent and 60 percent. The semiconductor materials market is also predicted to contract by about 20 percent in 2009.

In terms of capital expenditure (Capex) in the industry, Intel leads the semiconductor players in investments for 2009, said Tracy. Samsung, TSMC, Toshiba and AMD fab spinoff GlobalFoundries round up the top five. Among the nine companies on Semi's list, only GlobalFoundries--with its planned construction of its New York fab and upgrades to its Dresden facility--will record a positive Capex over 2008.