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Making the machines that make solar cells

4/9/2012 12:22 PM EDT
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DMcCunney
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CEO
re: Making the machines that make solar cells
DMcCunney   4/14/2012 4:28:31 AM
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This is a problem that affects more than unskilled labor. Value is relative. Something is worth what someone else is willing to exchange for it, and this applies to the worker's labor as well as physical goods. An assortment of workers in a variety of industries have effectively been told "What you do isn't worth what you are getting paid to do it", as ways are found to do those things cheaper. The CEO of Delphi Automotive sent shock waves through the auto industry in 2005 by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. No surprise: Delphi had workers making up to $60/hour in salary and fringes and was attempting to compete with foreign suppliers with labor costs of $10/hour. The automakers who bought the parts Delphi made were trying to reduce costs and putting enormous pressure on suppliers to lower their prices. Delphi had the choice of declaring bankruptcy, closing plants, and shedding workers to rationalize costs, or going out of business entirely. The unionized auto workers laboring at Delphi plants had priced themselves out of the market. They may have gotten other jobs, but they are unlikely to have gotten jobs paying what they used to make, because no one was willing to pay that much for what they did. And those folks were probably classed as skilled laborers, so things are much worse for those who truly have no skills at all. We probably have a fairly large number of folks now who just won't *get* jobs, because they can't do anything anyone is willing to pay for, and more who are looking at pay cuts because the value of their skills has declined. We need significant improvement in education to reduce the number of truely unskilled laborers. And we need to create a culture where continual learning is assumed. The job you are doing today may not exist tomorrow, and the skills you applied may be irrelevant.

EVVJSK
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re: Making the machines that make solar cells
EVVJSK   4/13/2012 5:22:50 PM
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The days of unskilled workers making $30 an hour are likely over. The question to me is can we get those who don't have any job to take one at a lower pay scale and can we get Production to the point that we can take a person with a High School education and pay them a fair (not inflated price) to do a job, with the aid of automation where possible to produce a solar (or any other product for that matter) than Americans are willing to pay for. I think Americans are willing to pay a little more to buy American, but not a lot more. Shipping costs must be going up. That will not erase lower China wages (or Chinese Government subsides either), but if it helps to close the gap and if some American Workers are willing to work for the right price we may have a solution. If not, we are doomed.

David Ashton
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re: Making the machines that make solar cells
David Ashton   4/13/2012 4:13:31 AM
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Thanks George (and others above). Lets hope they can keep their heads above water. They're certainly doing what the US does best, so good luck to them.

DMcCunney
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CEO
re: Making the machines that make solar cells
DMcCunney   4/12/2012 4:43:34 PM
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Let's define what we mean by the "US solar industry". That encompasses a lot more than just the fabs turning out the photovoltaic wafers, and the vast majority of jobs will be in things like sales and installation. What the solar industry really needs isn't photovoltaic wafers made here: it's for the cost of using photovoltaics to decline further relative to other ways to generate power, so that going solar is a more economically attractive proposition for Those who might do it. I was involved in a federally funded alternative energy push in the 70's when OPEC was in first flower, and gasoline was going over $1/gallon. We were certainly *aware* of solar cells, but most alternative energy source got little pick-up because using oil, even at higher prices, was still *cheaper* than the alternatives. In that sense, photovoltaic wafer manufacturing in China is arguably *good* for the US solar industry as a while, because it reduces costs and makes solar energy generation more competitive with alternatives.

DMcCunney
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CEO
re: Making the machines that make solar cells
DMcCunney   4/12/2012 4:33:38 PM
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Precisely. Consider manufacturing still done here and related services. The auto industry still has US plants turning out cars. It's overall faster, cheaper, and more flexible to assemble finished vehicles here than to build them elsewhere and ship them here. The UAW has been forced to accept changes in the sorts of deals they could once offer workers because the industry can't afford them, but the plants remain. Meanwhile, once those cars are sold, someone has to maintain them. A friend was talking about the two year automotive program at the high school she attended, where the first week, the student picked a car at a junkyard, and spent the rest of the program learning how to rebuild it from scratch: engine, transmission, brakes, electrical system, body work, upholstery, painting - everything. At the end of the course, the kids who passed had running cars they had restored. Local dealerships salivated over the graduates. If I were advising a kid on a possible career these days, auto mechanics might be an option I'd suggest. Dealerships are all looking for skilled mechanics, there's good money, and by definition, the job *can't* be outsourced. It has to be done here. And those mechanics in the "services" sector may make rather more than the guy on the line at the assembly plant.

Andrzej11
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CEO
re: Making the machines that make solar cells
Andrzej11   4/12/2012 3:39:18 PM
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How about generous Chinese government incentives and lower cost of capital to name a couple.

jaybus0
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CEO
re: Making the machines that make solar cells
jaybus0   4/12/2012 11:53:06 AM
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Yes, nearly so, but not necessarily in the same way. The obvious way to decrease manufacturing costs is to replace workers with more advanced automation. If those advanced automation tools are produced in the US, and few workers are needed, then what advantage is there to moving US operations to China?

Tony Lange
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re: Making the machines that make solar cells
Tony Lange   4/11/2012 2:53:22 AM
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Proton cutting, This is same as Soitec "smart-cut" process.Japanese silicon supplier Shin Etsu Handotai was the first company to license "smart-cut" process from Soitec. how does Twin Creeks solve the IP conflicts with Soitec?

t.alex
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Rookie
re: Making the machines that make solar cells
t.alex   4/10/2012 9:20:21 PM
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Yes, that is what-a-deal! The story of this machine is much more fascinating and life-chaning.

DMcCunney
User Rank
CEO
re: Making the machines that make solar cells
DMcCunney   4/10/2012 4:29:35 PM
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They might be. The sort of gear Twin Creeks is selling is high end capital goods, with a very hefty price tag per unit. How big is the total market for such equipment? The Chinese might very well be able to duplicate it. Would it be worth the time and expense needed to do it? From a purely economic standpoint, it might not. There might be political reasons why they might choose to that had little to do with economics.

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