Japan PV Leaders Reach New Records in Profits, Technology
Japan PV Leaders Reach New Records in Profits, Technology
New feed-in tariff policies and other supportive policies in Japan--as well as success in many international markets—has helped three of Japan’s leading PV companies to record profits. The earnings reports reflect a surge in activity by Japan’s solar leaders and a renewed, long term commitment to the global solar market in both crystalline and thin film markets.
Silicon Thin Film Cell Shipments by Japanese Solar Companies (MW) (Source: JPEA)
Nikkei reports that Sharp’s solar cell business earned an operating profit of 3.3 billion yen in fiscal 2009, rebounding from a 16.1 billion yen loss in fiscal 2008. Solar sales in Japan jumped 2.3-fold on strong demand from the housing sector, accounting for 43% of Sharp's overall segment sales -- compared with 25% a year earlier. Japanese leader in solar cells anticipates the figure to climb to 47% in the current fiscal year. As a result of new incentives, the domestic market for home-use solar systems surged 110% in 2009.
After cautious expansion plans over recent years, Sharp increased production to 792MW in 2009, up approximately 90% over the previous fiscal year. For fiscal 2010, Sharp said it expected sales of solar cells of 250 billion yen, up 19.8% over the previous year, and a production volume of 1200MW, up approximately 50% over the previous fiscal year.
Kyocera Corp. reported an operating profit of more than 10 billion yen in its solar cell operations in fiscal 2009. Sales increased by 23.7% due to sales growth in the solar energy business in overseas markets, particularly Europe and the United States, while operating profit increased by 54.3%. Domestic sales accounted for roughly half of its total solar cell sales for the year, compared with 30% in fiscal 2008.
As part of the new plan to increase yearly cell production, Kyocera has now completed the construction of a new cell manufacturing plant in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture to raise its total output capacity 150% by the end of fiscal 2012. This facility will operate in addition to the company's existing Shiga Yohkaichi plant. New targets aim for an increase to 1GW annually by March 2013, which is more than 2.5 times the current fiscal year 2010 production volume of 400MW (PV-Tech).
Sanyo Electric Co. increased its overall solar cell sales 25% in fiscal 2009, with domestic sales climbing nearly 50%."Domestic demand has grown so much that our output has been unable to keep up," Executive Vice President Koichi Maeda said during the company's earnings announcement.
Sanyo Electric, majority owned my Panasonic, has announced plans to invest 170 billion yen ($1.8 billion) in capital spending for its rechargeable battery and solar cell operations for the next three years. Sanyo is aiming to achieve a 21% conversion efficiency for its HIT solar cells at mass-production level by March 2011 (PV-Tech). The company plans to start solar cell production at Panasonic's panel plant by early 2013.
Sanyo, Kyocera, Sharp and Mitsubishi will also have new competitor in the Japan domestic market with the announcement that SunPower has signed a strategic supply agreement with Toshiba. The SunPower modules will form the cornerstone of Toshiba's new residential solar offering in Japan.
Japan Developments in Thin Film
With an initial production capacity of 160MW, Sharp has started volume production at its 1GW a-Si thin-film plant in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, Japan. According to the company, the new facility will be a model plant for future Sharp thin-film solar cell plants around the world.
The Sakai manufacturing plant is producing thin-film solar cells and modules using large-size glass substrates measuring 1,000 x 1,400 mm. That is one (1) percent of the silicon used for crystalline solar cells to enable lower raw materials costs, simpler manufacturing processes. Sharp’s multi-junction product has the flexibility to produce cells with two or three layers, depending on customer needs.
Konica Minolta has signed a comprehensive R&D collaboration and strategic investment agreement with organic PV company Konarka Technologies. The deal calls for an investment of $20 million by Konica in Konarka and for the companies to start full-scale collaboration in April in the joint development and distribution of organic thin-film PV.
According to published reports, the companies plan to organize their respective strengths in materials, optical, and coating technologies as well as joint development. The goal is to improve OPV performance by increasing conversion efficiencies, extending lifetimes, and lowering manufacturing costs, and to realize mass production of next-generation PV.
Konarka uses a roll-to-roll process to simplify manufacturing scale-up, and have significantly lower capital and labor costs than previous generations of solar cells.
Once the joint development milestones are successfully completed, the companies expect to establish a joint venture company in Japan to produce OPV panels, with Konica Minolta becoming Konarka's lead Asian business partner.
Thin-film PV producer Showa Shell Solar has changed its name to Solar Frontier as part of expansion plans to eventually hit a target of 1GW of sales per year of its copper-indium-selenide (CIS) modules to customers worldwide.
A third factory, which will join the two existing production facilities in Japan with a nominal capacity of 100MW, will begin operations in Miyazaki in 2011. The price tag for the new 900MW fab has been reported to be around $1 billion. The third factory will bring Solar Frontier’s total capacity to 1GW.
In other thin film news from Japan, Mitsubishi Electric has announced a triple-junction thin-film silicon cell structure that utilizes the majority of the solar spectrum have produced conversion efficiencies of 14.8% in the lab. The 5mm x 5mm cell has first layer absorbs short wavelengths and a third layer absorbs long wavelengths. Texture fabrication was also applied to transparent electrodes for optimal confinement of light. Mitsubishi Electric intends to further continue its research and development with aims to raise the photoelectric conversion efficiency of its thin-film PV cells by improving cell structure, materials, processing and other factors, aiming to develop advanced PV systems.
These and many other leaders in the Japan PV market will be exhibiting and attending at PVJapan, Japan’s premier solar energy technology show.
PV Group, The Grid – May 2010