Clouds on the horizon for European solar energy equipment suppliers
For semiconductor fabrication equipment manufacturers, systems that make solar cells are an excellent market for diversification, particularly during the current slow down in other areas of semiconductor manufacture. While up to now European plants have been able to attract manufacturing with industrial commitments and favourable energy policies, recently, like so many other manufacturing industries, business is moving to the east.
Applied Materials, the world's largest semiconductor manufacturing equipment supplier, took over several photovoltaics specialists in 2007. One of them was a Sunfab Centre in Alzenau, Germany, where for some time, the firm has been operating a plant for process engineering and coating technology. Now, part of solar production is to be moved to a new location in Taiwan, along with other corporate divisions in the energy sector currently located in Silicon Valley.
CEO Michael Splinter explained last week during Semicon West, lower staff costs were not the reason for the move to Asia. Indeed, Splinter said he was also very pleased with Germany's support for renewable's, both from the viewpoint of manufacturers and operators of solar cells. Rather, he said that Asia is becoming an important market for Applied now that Indian solar panel companies, originally producing exclusively in Germany, have shifted their manufacturing to Asia. He pointed out that two new US manufacturers of photovoltaic systems, First Solar and Sunpower, also operate plants in Asia. Recently, Applied set up a second headquarters in Singapore to control their Asian operations.