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How do PV and IC silicon markets compare?

In 2009, solar cells consumed 10 times as many square inches of silicon as the IC market, but generated about the same total revenue for silicon manufacturers.

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The recent announcement of 2010 silicon wafer shipments got me wondering: silicon consumption for solar cells passed silicon consumption for integrated circuits a number of years ago, but how do they compare now? A quick call to the very helpful Richard Winegarner at Sage Concepts answered the question. In 2009, solar cells consumed 10 times as many square inches, but generated about the same total revenue.

2009 2010(est)
Semiconductor wafers
(billion square inches)
6.707 9.370
Semiconductor wafer revenues
(US$Billion)
6.7 9.7
Polysilicon for semiconductors
(thousand metric tons)
20 28
Solar cell wafers
(billion square inches)
67 134
Solar cell wafer revenues
(US$Billion)
6.7 13.4
GigaWatts at peak output
(excluding thin film)
6.3 13.5
Polysilicon for solar cells
(Thousand metric tons)
74 108

Source: SEMI for semiconductors, Sage Concepts for solar, polysilicon

As Winegarner explained, wafers for semiconductors cost about US$1.00 per square inch, while wafers for solar cells cost only about US$0.10 per square inch on average. I expect almost all of this price differential can be attributed to the extremely energy intensive Czolchralski growth process used for semiconductor wafers, and to their larger size and more stringent performance specifications.

Incidentally, SEMI analyst Dan Tracy reports that 300mm wafers have only just recently captured the majority of the market, accounting for 51% of the total in 2010 and 52% in 2009. That’s 10 years after the first 300mm wafer rolled off the Semiconductor300 pilot line, a timeline worth remembering as the industry considers a move to 450 mm wafers.


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