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Home arrow Blog arrow 9/6/06, Applied joining solar market

9/6/06, Applied joining solar market PDF Print E-mail
Written by Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer   
Wednesday, 06 September 2006
Applied joining solar market
Santa Clara firm to make equipment for cell production

- Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Applied Materials, the Santa Clara company that makes the tool for producing computer chips, said Tuesday it will start selling fabrication equipment aimed at the rapidly growing market for solar energy cells.

"We plan to change the cost equation for solar power," Applied chief executive Mike Splinter said in a two-pronged announcement that had company officials briefing investors in New York as the company was showing off its new energy-from-sunlight production lines at an international solar energy festival in Dresden, Germany.

Most semiconductor chips and solar cells are based on the same material, an ultra-purified form of silicon that has lately been in short supply thanks to the growing popularity of government-subsidized solar power installations.

But unlike computer chips, which have long benefited from a smaller-cheaper-faster trend enabled by sophisticated production systems made by independent tool-making firms like Applied, firms in the solar industry have largely had to create their own assembly lines.

Neal Dikeman, an energy specialist for the San Francisco merchant banking firm Jane Capital Partners, said Applied has so far "done everything right, taking baby steps" into the solar tools market over recent months by, for instance, acquiring technology from Germany for making solar cells that was the subject of a recent Chronicle story.

"This is the first time a large equipment-maker has been spending attention and resources on solar," Dikeman said.

In a telephone interview from Germany, Applied spokesman Dave Miller said the trade show in Dresden is the world's largest single gathering of solar energy suppliers, making it a natural event for the company's announcement.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Splinter said it is his company's goal to drive down the cost of generating a watt of electricity from the sun from roughly $3 now to more like $1, but did not specify when.

"We have the technology and capability to help our customers drive the cost of introducing solar down,'' Splinter told Bloomberg News.

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