With the continuous deterioration of the global environment and the exhaustion of fossil fuel energy, countries around the world are looking for new energy sources suitable for human survival and development. The construction of photovoltaic energy storage projects is an important measure to implement energy transformation. Third-generation semiconductors have the characteristics of high frequency, high power, high voltage resistance, high temperature resistance, and radiation resistance, which can promote highly efficient, highly reliably, and low cost of photovoltaic energy storage inverters and the green and low-carbon development of energy.
SiC will be widely used in high-power string/central inverters, while GaN is more suitable for household micro-inverters
As the photovoltaic industry enters the era of “large components, large inverters, large-span brackets, and large strings,” the voltage level of photovoltaic power plants has increased from 1000V to over 1500V and high-voltage SiC power components will be used extensively in string and centralized inverters. For residential micro-inverters with a power of up to 5kW, GaN power components have more advantages. Not only can they significantly improve overall conversion efficiency, effectively reduce the levelized cost of energy (LCOE), but also allow users to easily build smaller, lighter, and more reliable inverters.
Key SiC substrates are crucial to the development of third-generation semiconductors and major manufacturers are competing to get to market
SiC substrate is regarded as the core raw material of third-generation semiconductors. Its crystal growth is slow and process technology complex. Mass production is not easy. Conductive substrates can produce SiC power electronic components while semi-insulating substrates can be used for the fabrication of GaN microwave radio frequency components. In addition, due to the high difficulty of substrate preparation, its value is relatively high. The cost of SiC substrate accounts for approximately 50% of the total cost of components which demonstrates its importance in the industrial chain.
At present, the supply of the global SiC market is firmly in the hands of substrate manufacturers. Wolfspeed, II-VI and SiCrystal (subsidiary of ROHM) together account for nearly 90% of shipments. IDM manufacturers such as Infineon, STM, and Onsemi are actively developing upstream SiC substrates and expect to take full advantage of the supply chain to strengthen their competitiveness. Everyone wants to get a piece of the pie, so the battle for SiC substrates will become more and more fierce, but the wait will not be long to see where the industry eventually goes in coming years.
Some of the advantages of third-generation semiconductors SiC and GaN include their ability to operate under high voltages, high temperatures （for SiC）, and high frequencies（for GaN）. Not only do these advantages allow manufacturers to significantly reduce the physical sizes of chips, but peripheral circuit designs can also be simplified as a result, thereby further reducing the sizes of modules, peripheral components, and cooling systems. That is why SiC and GaN have become important strategic focuses of the global semiconductor industry.
As part of its ongoing goal of semiconductor independence, China has been accelerating the development of third-generation semiconductors in recent years
From the perspective of substrate development, countries find it difficult to procure SiC substrates due to the lack of production capacities worldwide. Hence, the ability to control the supply of SiC substrates equals having more influence in the semiconductor industry. The current ranking of geographical regions that control the supply of SiC substrates is, in order, the US （Cree and II-VI）, Japan （Rohm）, and Europe （STM）.
It should be pointed out that China’s overall standing in the third-generation semiconductor industry is hindered by its insufficient supply of substrates. Hence, Chinese companies are slightly lagging behind other global companies in this industry. At the moment, both TankeBlue and Shanxi Shuoke have successfully developed 8-inch SiC wafers, though their scale of mass production is yet to catch up to global leader Cree.
Despite the vast majority of GaN substrate suppliers being Japanese and European companies, Chinese companies have been making an aggressive push to enter this market. Regarding substrates, Nanowin, Sino Nitride, and Eta Research are all currently investing in R&D and mass production, though their current focuses are limited to 2-inch and 4-inch wafers. Regarding epitaxy, Enkris, GLC, and Genettice have been similarly making progress on R&D and mass production.
Furthermore, Chinese companies are farther ahead in the development and manufacturing strategies for GaN substrates compared to SiC substrates. For the GaN RF segment, Chinese companies span the entire supply chain, including IDM（CETC, Aofengyuan, Chengchang, Dynax, Innoscience, Bofang Jiaxin）, foundries（HiWafer and San’an）, and fabless IC design companies（GaXtrem）.
The third-generation semiconductor industry was impaired by the US-China trade war and the COVID-19 pandemic successively from 2018 to 2020, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. During this period, the semiconductor industry on the whole saw limited upward momentum, in turn leading to muted growth for the 3rd gen semiconductor segment as well. However, this segment is likely to enter a rapid upturn owing to high demand from automotive, industrial, and telecom applications. In particular, the GaN power device market will undergo the fastest growth, with a $61 million revenue, a 90.6% YoY increase, projected for 2021.
TrendForce expects three factors to drive the rapid growth of the GaN and SiC markets in 2021: First, widespread vaccinations are projected to drastically curb the spread of the pandemic, thereby galvanizing a stable increase in the demand for base station components, as well as for components used in industrial energy transition, such as power inverters and converters. Secondly, as Tesla began adopting SiC MOSFET designs for its in-house inverters used in Model 3 vehicles, the automotive industry has started to place increasing importance on 3rd gen semiconductors. Finally, China will invest enormous capital into its 14th five-year plan starting this year and expand its 3rd gen semiconductor production capacity to ultimately achieve semiconductor independence.
Resurging demand from EV, industrial, and telecom sectors will bring about a corresponding increase in 3rd gen semiconductor device revenue
Although certain foundries, such as TSMC and VIS, have been attempting to manufacture GaN devices with 8-inch wafers, 6-inch wafers are still the mainstream. As the pandemic shows signs of a slowdown, the demand for RF front end in 5G base stations, for smartphone chargers, and for automotive on-board chargers has now gradually risen. As such, total yearly revenue from GaN RF devices is projected to reach US$680 million, a 30.8% increase YoY, in 2021, whereas GaN power device revenue is projected to reach $61 million, which is a 90.6% increase YoY.
In particular, the remarkable increase in GaN power device revenue can primarily be attributed to the release of fast chargers from smartphone brands, such as Xiaomi, OPPO, and Vivo, starting in 2018. These chargers enjoyed excellent market reception thanks to their effective heat dissipation and small footprint. Some notebook computer manufacturers are currently looking to adopt fast charging technology for their notebook chargers as well. Going forward, TrendForce expects more smartphone and notebook chargers to feature GaN power devices, leading to a peak YoY increase in GaN power device revenue in 2022, after which there will be a noticeable slowdown in its upward trajectory as GaN power devices become widely adopted by charger manufacturers.
On the other hand, 6-inch wafer capacities for SiC devices have been in relative shortage, since SiC substrates are widely used in RF front end and power devices. TrendForce expects yearly SiC power device revenue to reach $680 million, a 32% increase YoY, in 2021. Major substrate suppliers, including Cree, II-VI, and STMicroelectronics, are planning to manufacture 8-inch SiC substrates, but the short supply of SiC substrates will unlikely be resolved until 2022.
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