What is TSMC’s next move?

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The world’s largest semiconductor foundry is rumored to have plans to enter the photovoltaics industry — but as yet no actual details have emerged. If the rumors are true, an obvious first move for the company would be to acquire a small-medium sized integrated cell manufacturer, then apply its processing knowledge and capital to boost cell performance and production capacity. However, an article over at digitimes claims that TSMC is planning to enter the thin-film market. Does this prove that the natural progression from semiconductor to PV is unpredictable, or simply that TSMC’s relationship with Applied Materials runs deeper than we thought?

TSMC has always had a very strong business relationship with Applied Materials, paving the way for a rather straightforward migration into the PV industry. We can safely assume that both companies have discussed in detail using Applied’s SunFab thin-film technology at some point.  

However, digitimes believes that TSMC will not go down the turnkey route to thin-film. Speculation mounts at their end that the company is more likely to develop a bespoke thin-film product, again leveraging its process knowledge in these disciplines.

I, however, do not expect TSMC to deviate too far away from mainstream thin-film technology. With a relatively late arrival on the market, the company would not be making a wise choice by beginning at the drawing board and looking up innovative solutions to the common problems currently resident in thin-film technology -this would put the company behind before it even began.

It is also important to take into consideration that CIGS is now producing competitive conversion efficiencies with each month that passes, yet there is still a window for a CIGS player, especially one with the capital resources of TSMC and the ability to use its own IP. This doesnt exclude a turnkey supplier such as centrotherm, though the rumours suggest otherwise.

It does not seem likely that TSMC would want to compete with CdTe leader First Solar, so CIGS seems the best route to bypass them and differentiate using CIGS.

I would NOT discount a tie-up with Applied, JUST YET. This would be a significant deal for the equipment supplier, yet TSMC would be in a powerful bargaining position on all fronts, should a deal be struck.

So, while we all hold our breath for the quarterly financial results, TSMC could be preparing to announce its PV plans. We’ll just have to wait and see which path it chooses.

Updated: 13.10.09

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