Solar Taiwan

Look who's set to cash in on renewable energy's coming-out party.


Andrew Leonard
November 1, 2006 5:59AM (UTC)

The latest proof that solar power is ready for prime time: Taiwanese entrepreneurs see a market.

On Oct. 26, MEMC Electronic Materials, a silicon wafer manufacturer headquartered in St. Louis, announced a 10-year deal to provide "solar grade" wafers to Taiwan's Gintech Co. The agreement is expected to generate $2 billion to $3 billion of revenue for MEMC.

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Gintech is one of a half-dozen Taiwanese solar cell manufacturers that are rushing to cash in on renewable energy. The leader of the pack is Motech, the ninth-largest provider of photovoltaic cells in the world. Few things are certain in this world, but if Taiwanese high-technology companies are betting on the future of solar power, then consumers can expect that prices will drop, fast. If ever there was a country whose citizens operated as if disobeying Moore's Law was punishable by death, it would be Taiwan.

In retrospect, a Taiwanese presence in the global solar power industry is a natural development, given the island's strengths in the closely related field of semiconductor manufacturing. Gintech's executive team includes former execs at the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Formosa Plastics, Taiwan's world-class petrochemical products conglomerate. It doesn't take much imagination to see that a country that excels in producing made-to-order computer chips would find it easy to branch into photovoltaic cells.

Taiwan's government, according to its own account, is also looking for ways to promote the domestic solar power industry -- in particular by encouraging the domestic production of polysilicon, which is currently in short supply globally due to the voracious appetitite of both the solar and chip industries.

Which leads one to wonder. Gintech didn't come up with its own manufacturing technology -- it bought a "turnkey" solution from Germany's Centrotherm. Germany has been aggressively promoting the development of renewable energy technologies through government incentives and subsidies for years. Looking for proof, not just that solar power is coming of age, but that it pays to think ahead and prepare for the future? Try Germany. Or Taiwan. Or California. Hmm. What's missing here?


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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