Computer Invasion Continues: Taiwan Semi Moves into Solar, LEDs

| About: Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM)
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By Michael Kanellos

First you had Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT), IBM and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) moving into alternative energy.

Then Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), SAP and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) began making noises about helping control energy consumption. Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) jumped in with Cisco EnergyWise.

Now another big one joins the fray: TSMC, or Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (NYSE:TSM), says it wants to get into the solar and LED markets. TMSC is no household name, but it is a behemoth in computing. The company, founded by Morris Chang, was the first to offer foundry services, i.e., it made chips for people who didn't own their own factory. It was dismissed by some in the late '80s as crazy talk. Now, foundries dominate chipmaking and TSMC remains the largest in the world.

By getting into alternative energy, TSMC will likely lower the capital costs and shrink the time to market for startups that make inverters and controllers. In turn, that will lead to lower costs for consumers and increased product shipments worldwide. And naturally, once one foundry does it, expect to see the other ones like UMC get into the act. TSMC and these other companies specialize in chips so expect to see them mostly concentrate on semiconductors for the alternative energy market.

Various contract manufacturers like Jabil (NYSE:JBL) and Powercom are getting into the act too. (Ucilia Wang has a story today on how power supply maker Powercom has assembled the know-how to do solar components.)

Ultimately, this could lead to something a lot of people have begun to predict will occur: foundries that make complete solar cells and/or panels. Running a factory is no fun and it's expensive. If an established solar panel maker, such as BP Solar, could cut its cost and gain market share by going to a foundry, it would. Those startups in the Valley with III-V solar cells but no place to make them would eat it up.