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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SEMI Members Essential to a Sustainable World

I was thrilled and proud to see the recent report that confirmed that semiconductors are at the vanguard of the world’s most significant steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate climate change. The report by the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEEE) claims a significant relationship between economy-wide productivity growth and the use of semiconductor-based technologies. Since 1990, the United States has expanded its economic output by nearly 62 percent but the demand for energy has grown by less than 20 percent during the same period. The report claims that this decoupling of economic growth and energy consumption is a function of increased energy productivity— primarily achieved through semiconductor technologies. Faster, better and cheaper microprocessors, computers, and telecommunications equipment have accelerated both the adoption of these technologies and their growing networked use. This, in turn, has ignited changes in the way that we manufacture products, conduct business, and maintain social activities.

And of course, I believe that technical achievements in manufacturing equipment and materials are the primary drivers for the proliferation semiconductors. Semiconductors have been around for decades. What has made them faster, cheaper and better are the manufacturing efficiencies delivered by SEMI members that have made Moore’s Law a self fulfilling prophecy. By enabling a miraculous 4,000,000X reduction in cost since 1975, no other industry has had such a positive and wide ranging contribution to world energy efficiency and no other industry is expected to contribute more to fossil fuel reduction in the coming decades.

The report states: “Compared to the technologies available in 1976, we estimate that the entire family of semiconductor-enabled technologies generated a net savings of about 775 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in the year 2006 alone … [H]ad we expanded the size and scope of the U.S. economy based on 1976 technologies, it appears that the U.S. would be using about 20 percent more electricity than actually consumed in 2006.”

What the report doesn’t state is that semiconductor technology—or to be more precise, manufacturing technology—is also displacing fossil fuels by enabling the production of solar PV, solid state lighting and fuel cells. Some estimates predict that by the year 2030, PV systems could be generating approximately 2,600 TWh of electricity around the world, enough to satisfy the electricity needs of almost 14% of the world’s population. In environmental terms, it would reduce annual CO2 emissions by 1.6 billion tons, equivalent to the output from 450 coal-fired power plants. Today, virtually every mass-produced PV cell in the world is made with equipment and materials from SEMI member companies.

Solid state lighting produced by high brightness LEDs (typically GaN/InGaN chips) is another critical component of the future energy equation. It is estimated that 22% of the nation’s electricity is used for commercial lighting, equivalent to 8% of the nation’s total energy and approximately 130 million tons of carbon emitted into our atmosphere. The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that an efficient solid state lighting technology could save the U.S. about 620 billion kilowatt-hours per year (or approximately 50-70 power plants) by the year 2025. Like solar cells and semiconductors, the equipment and materials used to make solid state lighting are developed and made by SEMI member companies. Without continued developments by SEMI member companies, white LEDS won't reach the cost targets necessary to diplace conventional lighting.

Almost every solution contemplated to solve our energy problems are enabled by semiconductor technology made faster, better and cheaper by SEMI member companies. Many of these of solutions are just now being developed, such as nanotechnology fuel cells and energy harvesting chips that are powered by kinetic energy. Smart grid technologies enable a more cost-effective deployment of decentralized but cleaner renewable energy resources— such as solar panels and wind turbines. These “green” technologies are also enabled by a variety of semiconductor technologies, including sensors to measure temperature or other variables; communications chips to receive and transmit data; memory chips to store the information; and power management chips to adjust energy loads.

The importance of SEMI member companies can’t be overstated. Without their manufacturing expertise, developments in the lab can’t be commercialized for widespread use. Without their achievements, the gigawatts needed in solar and the double digit economic productivity increases can’t be realized. Without their contributions, the only equation that works in our energy future is one that requires drastically lower lifestyles, radically reduced economic progress, and an end to developmental progress in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Fortunately, the companies that comprise SEMI are marshaling some of the most brilliant and ingenious people from around the world to address the planet’s most critical problems.

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