India chip dreams replaced by PV solar

Unlike the hyped goals a couple of years ago about establishing frontend semiconductor fabrication, India’s PV plans are ramping up noticeably and seem likely to prosper.

by James Montgomery, news editior

October 21, 2009 – Unlike the hyped goals a couple of years ago about establishing frontend semiconductor fabrication, India’s PV plans are ramping up noticeably and seem likely to prosper.

The latest move is KSK Surya’s commitment to purchase two SunFab amorphous silicon thin-film lines from Applied Materials (and a five-year service contract) for its planned facility in Hyderabad’s “Fab City,” with estimated total project cost (including land and buildings) of $500M. At full capacity, the site will ramp to 150MW, India’s largest solar PV factory. Anil Kutty, managing director of KSK Surya Photovoltaic Venture, noted in a statement that “thin film silicon is the best solar module technology for conditions on the ground in India,” capable of producing more power at high ambient temperatures and under diffused light than crystalline silicon technologies.

India made a big push in 2006 to join the fab-club league, announcing the Fab City with a parade of potential tenants, including HSMC and Infineon, and even AMD. But by 2008 it seemed reality had overtaken promise, with reports that plans had shifted away from major IC fabs to less-robust backend facilities, and also dabbling in solar PV. In the end, semiconductor manufacturing requires a lot of infrastructure (electricity, water, air, transportation access, etc.) — but most of all, lots of money, and ultimately it seems that was a key missing factor in India’s fab plans.

Solar PV, however, seems to be garnering more support in India, which is among the top sun-drenched areas of the globe with 250-300 clear sunny days a year “and vast untapped solar energy potential” — possibly up to ~600 trillion watts/year of solar reception, notes Gartner analyst Ganesh Ramamoorthy in a new report. Seeing opportunity, India has mapped a $19B three-phase “Solar Mission” to ramp from today’s <5MW <1GW of solar power to 1.5GW in 2012, 6-7GW by 2017, and 20GW by 2020.

Other solar deals are heating up the India market. Solar Semiconductor recently inaugurated the first phase of its PV manufacturing facility also in Fab City, with multiyear contracts in hand from Q-Cells and Bosch Solar Energy (mono- and multicrystalline cells). And Tata BP Solar and North Delhi Power plan to set up plants in Delhi, including rooftop installations, with goals of up to 1MW capacity.

Most of the output is headed to Germany, but growing domestic demand coupled with announced guidelines for grid-connected solar power generation indicate new opportunities for PV cell/module manufacturers in India, notes Ramamoorthy. “Given the growth potential, it is only natural for global solar PV manufacturers and their suppliers to invest in the fast-growing Indian market now,” he writes. “We believe this trend will continue during 2010 as well, as more and more global solar PV cell/module manufacturers set up their facilities in India.”

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