Solar has become an increasingly enticing market for chip companies that have long histories of building low-cost manufacturing processes to shape and slice silicon, the key ingredient in traditional solar modules. But the barrier for chip companies to enter the solar arena has recently started dropping even more, with the emergence of the market for chips to optimize solar systems. That could become a $6 billion market alone this year, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal this morning, and companies like National Semiconductor (s NSM) and Microsemi (s MSCC) have started making chips that, when attached to solar panels, can improve the panels’ efficiency.
This newer market is significant, because it’s an even easier way for chip companies to move into the solar arena by selling slight variations of existing chip products. Previously, companies like Applied Materials (s AMAT) spent big money creating new products like thin film solar manufacturing gear. Or chip companies moved entirely into the solar panel production business. Now newer players can enter the space with less investment.
It’s all part of the ecosystem of the solar industry maturing and benefiting from economies of scale. Companies across the IT and computing industries are finding ways that they can offer products in the solar market, and startups are emerging that use software and computing to optimize solar, like Fat Spaniel. A lot of the news from Intersolar, the massive solar conference last week, was about software and devices (like National Semiconductors Solar Magic) that can optimize solar systems.