SPIE keynote: “Virtuous cycle” for ICs, LCD applies to PV too

by Griff Resor, Resor Associates, SST advisory board

Moore’s Law predicts the supply side of ICs, but the demand side can be understood as a “virtuous cycle” of technology advancement, lower costs, and rising demand leading to reinvestment. This same principle is in play for the emerging market for photovoltaics (PV), noted Gilad Almogy, senior VP of Applied Materials, at today’s opening keynote session for SPIE’s Advanced Lithography Conference in San Jose, CA.

Almogy began with a short review of IC market history. Gordon Moore’s “law” predicted the supply side, the number of transistors on a IC chip would double every 12-18 months. This, however, did not predict the demand side. As transistor output doubled, costs dropped, which led to lower prices for ICs. As prices dropped, markets expanded rapidly; applications spread from computers to notebooks to games, to innovative devices like the iPod, and many other uses. As IC markets grew, the industry invested in technology — and learned how to lower costs more. As costs went down, demand grew; this funded more investment in technology, which lowered costs, and so on. This “Virtuous Cycle,” Almogy noted, has continued In the IC market for over 40 years.

About 20 years ago the liquid crystal display (LCD) began a similar cycle, launched by the market for notebook computers. As demand picked up, output rose; this funded more investment in technology, which led to more cost reduction. By borrowing key technologies from the IC industry, the LCD business was able to launch faster. Unlike IC’s, the FPD market drove rapid cost reduction by increasing the size of the glass substrate — a new size every two years, sometimes sooner.

Applied sees the opportunity to launch the same virtuous cycle in the thin-film PV solar market, explained Almogy. The firm has taken many years of deposition tool and process development directly from their FPD business to the PV business. Large gen-8 glass sheets (about 2.2m × 2.5m) are being used to make large solar panels. Many process steps (and costs) are eliminated by Applied’s thin-film process. He pointed out that the world is near the “transition zone” where the cost of a solar watt will be equal to or lower than the cost of a fossil fuel watt. By launching in PV markets the same kind of virtuous cycle used in IC and FPD markets, the PV market should grow rapidly to a scale where it will be self-sustaining. — G.R.

(Photo source: SPIE)

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