Semiconductors and the Sun

SemiconI’m sitting in a Starbucks in San Francisco today, attending my 9th annual SEMICON West conference. It’s a scary prospect, but feels good at the same time to recognize old faces in the crowd. The conference is the largest one catering to the semiconductor equipment and materials suppliers, who outfit the fabs that manufacture computer chips that are found in just about any device a consumer picks up. To say it’s a techie crowd is quite an understatement. The brainpower hurdling through the Moscone Center this week is massive.

The show started out in the fairgrounds of San Mateo – RVs served as the company booths, which apparently held a keg of a beer combined with a multi-million dollar piece of equipment. Times obviously have changed, but the event now exists more for networking purposes rather than generating sales.  This morning I already have talked to three different companies that told me PO numbers aren’t exchanged at the show anymore. Instead, it’s all about sustaining the relationships and demonstrating who has more marketing prowess. If you are familiar with how much a trade show booth costs, you see that this is quite an investment to maintain relationships and showcase your brand.

One thing that did catch my eye was the excitement around the solar market. The semiconductor market has the transferable skills to push solar technology into the mainstream, and according to the industry titan Applied Materials – solar technology is about to experience a price inflection in the near future that will create a new booming market worldwide. The semiconductor industry needs to join forces and make this happen because as it stands now, Germany and Asia-Pacific dominate the market. The press is catching onto this story, and I hope the semiconductor industry is able to band together to give the U.S. market a piece of the pie.

I attended an event in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago where Herman Scheer, the President of the European Association for Renewable Energy, spoke to a group via conference call. He said it best – "as long as the sun exists, we can create solar power." And according to his scientific sources, we have at least another 5-8 billion years.