The ongoing power shortage across Texas has forced grid operators to take extraordinary steps to keep power flowing across the state. Multiple companies with fabs near Austin have been ordered to shut down completely, including Samsung, Infineon, and NXP.
The largest immediate cause of the rolling blackouts and outages was Texas’ inability to provide sufficient natural gas for both electricity and heat. Frozen pipelines hindered electricity production across the state. There were also reports of some problems with frozen wind turbines and decreased power output from solar, but renewables provide a much smaller fraction of Texas’ total electricity than natural gas. Below freezing temperatures have hobbled the entire energy infrastructure of the state. Questions have also been raised about the tendency for infrastructure repairs to be conducted mostly in winter, and about the intelligence of keeping Texas’ power grid almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the nation.
The Austin American Statesman reports that plant operators were first asked to conserve energy before being asked to curtail production and finally, to shut down altogether.
“With prior notice, appropriate measures have safely been taken for the facilities and wafers in production,” Samsung spokeswoman Michele Glaze said. “We will resume production as soon as power is restored. We are discussing timing with the proper authorities.”
Samsung’s Austin fab builds products on 14nm, 28nm, and 32nm. Its 14nm presumably extends down to what Samsung calls 11nm (it’s just 14nm with some variants). Orders for Samsung 14nm chips are said to have surged last year as multiple fabless Chinese companies ordered hardware, and there were reports that Intel might have used Samsung as a second source for some 14nm products last year. Depending on what NXP, Infineon, and Samsung were building, and how long the shutdowns last, we could see ripple effects in the larger market — though at this point, it’s anyone’s guess if you’d actually be able to tell.
Some 200,000 people in Austin remain without power and the article notes Austin Energy is reaching out to owners of buildings in the downtown area, asking them to power down skyscrapers and other facilities so that power can be redirected elsewhere. Images of brightly lit (and completely empty) skyscrapers while hundreds of thousands are without power have not gone over well.
Idling a fab in the middle of production will assuredly destroy some wafers and facilities can’t be instantly brought back up to full speed, either. Both the Texas and California grids have now buckled in different seasons, with California’s collapsing last summer and Texas’s failing this winter.
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