Intersolar: Chip Industry Will Drive Down Solar Costs

The solar guru at semiconductor equipment company Applied Materials, Charlie Gay, says the chip companies that drove the electronics revolution will be important in bringing down the production costs of the solar industry. Gay gave a speech to launch Intersolar, the first U.S. version of a massive European solar conference, in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Applied Materials (AMAT), which makes semiconductor equipment and only moved into the solar equipment business two-and-a-half years ago, sells both crystalline and thin-film solar production equipment. While Applied employs roughly 14,000 people worldwide, only about 1,000 of its employees work in the solar division. But that division is already delivering significant sales for the chip gear maker; Gay said that the solar division has booked $3 billion worth of solar orders over its short lifespan.

“Applied Materials is an example of how semiconductor companies are moving into solar in a very large way,” said Gay. The go-go attitude in the Valley area that delivered the electronics revolution, he said, “are directly relevant here to what we’re doing here.”

The solar industry expects that the cost of electricity from solar power will come down dramatically over the next 3-5 years, and will soon be directly competitive with grid power. Gay predicts that the cost in price will benefit dramatically by the decades of work done by the chip industry.