SEMI: Creating Standards for the Solar Industry

SEMIis the global industry association that, among other things, helpsforward the adoption of standards in the semiconductor industry.   

Standardsin the semiconductor industry are one of the factors that allows you tobuy an iPod for $100 or a DVD player for $29.  Of course, economies ofscale help bring down pricing.  As does child labor in sweat shops. Anyway,back to standards.  Standards in the semiconductor industry mean thatsubstrates, materials, practices, sputtering equipment, line widths,light sources, and processes are known and shared and benefit allconcerned.  The standard tools and processes are a known entity, andcan be tweaked to suit the vendor’s requirements. 

Additionally,the semiconductor industry has a long term road map, known strangelyenough as the The International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors,or ITRS.  It’s afifteen-year outlook and assessment of the semiconductor industry’sfuture technology requirements and it drives semiconductor strategiesfor R&D today at manufacturers, universities, and national labs.

Bettina Weiss, Senior Director of Photovoltaics at SEMI, spoke at the monthly Silicon Valley Photovoltaic Societymeeting at PARC in Palo Alto, CA on "Increasing Power of PV throughStandards, Roadmaps, EHS, and Partnerships."  Bettina has worked atSEMI in several standards-related positions since joining theorganization in 1996.  In 2008, she began coordinating all activitiesin SEMI’s newly established solar segment, the PV Group.

SEMI sees partnerships and standardization as a way of strengtheningthe solar manufacturing supply chain, addressing the industry’s growingpains and finding meaningful ways to drive down cost and acceleratedeployment of solar energy.

What could be wrong with that?

Well,firstly, when SEMI’s PV Group tried to organize a get-together to lookat standards for this industry, only one cell maker showed up.  Therewere plenty of equipment vendors and other vendors along the valuechain, but only one cell vendor. 

That prompted SEMI to engage in some vendor discovery with an industry survey — more info here and here.   

Why would only one cell vendor be interested in standardization?

It’s still relatively early in the era of large-scale photovoltaicproduction. And the processes that are used differ from vendor tovendor.  In fact, it’s the processes that define the quality andperformance of a vendor’s product and what differentiates them from thecompetition.  And even in silicon-based solar, some solar manufacturersmake their own equipment to build what is essentially a photodiode.

Why would a company like SunPower or SunTech want to shareinformation about their processes?  And why would a company likeSunPower or SunTech want to agree on a road map with their competition?

Thereare fundamental differences in the IP and value propositions in solarvs. semiconductors.  The IP in an integrated circuit relies on cleverlayouts and design and intelligent building blocks.  The IP in solaris, in many cases, in the process itself.  Why would any vendorsurrender their differentiation?

James Amano, Director, International Standards at SEMI said, "Whileit was initially a struggle, cell makers are starting to come to thetable — for example, recent Standards activities in Europe have beeninstigated by Q-Cells and other heavy hitters.  While all companiesobviously want to protect their IP, everybody has areas of inefficiencyin their manufacturing processes that would benefit fromstandardization."

Standards in installation and permitting are another story, and the SolarTech organization works on that.



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