Cloudy Day for Silicon Valley Solar Biz

By Scott McGrew
|  Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010  |  Updated 11:44 AM PDT
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Cloudy Day for Silicon Valley Solar Biz

DREAMLIGHT

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Santa Clara-based Applied Materials announced this morning it would end its much ballyhooed "SunFab" effort making thin film solar cell manufacturing equipment.  The decision will effect 500 Bay Area jobs, but a company spokesperson was quick to point out that would not necessarily mean layoffs.

Applied didn't make solar cells - rather it made the equipment that allowed other businesses to build solar cells.  Its SunFab effort was considered turnkey: you could go from nothing to a fully functioning solar cell factory with one purchase from Applied Materials.

The south bay business is not ending its solar effort, rather its concentrating on an older technology called crystalline silicon solar cells.  It is this type of solar cell you often see on house roofs.  Applied has at least 80 customers in China alone buying crystalline solar manufacturing equipment, the spokesperson said.

Thin film solar had been a tempting technology.  It was made much the way computer chips were made, meaning it was part of Applied Materials' core competency.  While the end product was less efficient at energy conversion, thin film was generally seen as cheaper to manufacture.

The company blames slow adoption of solar and  the inability of customers to get capital for the sudden change.

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