Solar Energy in Japan has a long future dating back to 1994 when the government introduced capital subsidies to boost solar energy installations on rooftops.Till 2004,Japan was the largest solar market in the world after which it was overtaken by Germany.After 2004,the growth in the solar industry tapered off as the government reduced the subsidies for solar panels to almost zero.The huge domestic market gave rise to Japanese companies like Sharp,Mitsubishi,Kyocera,Panasonic-Sanyo become top solar panel producers in the world.However the low cost Chinese solar module producers have pushed back most of the Japanese companies.Since the last year,the Japanese government has again started giving generous solar subsidies and feed in tariff to boost the renewable energy production in the country which remains far off targets.This has led Japan to become the top non-European market after USA and the growth seems set to continue in the future as well.Japan has relatively low installations costs and is much nearer to grid parity.Also lack of wind energy makes solar energy more attractive as a renewable energy choice.While large scale solar installations in Japan are almsot absent,there remain large numbers of rooftop solar installations.
Top Japanese Solar Companies
1) Sharp - Sharp,the Japanese Zaibatsu known more for its Electronics Products is also the world’s No 1 Company in terms Solar Module Revenues.Sharp has been the solar world leader since the past 4-5 years despite stiff competition recently from upcoming Chinese Crystalline Solar (c-Si) players and Thin Film Leader First Solar
Sharp’s c-Si division is not cost competitive with the Chinese and Taiwanese companies as its cost structure is almost 30-40% higher than the cheapest Chinese producers.Though the quality of Sharp’s crystalline silicon modules is considered much better,the cost difference has become too big in a rapidly commoditizing industry
While companies like Masdar are abandoning their Thin Film plans,Sharp has started shipping a-Si modules from its 1 GW capacity plant in Sakai.With its established distribution strengths and technological abilities in LCD Technology,Sharp is one company that can survive the c-Si onslaught.
2) Sanyo-Panasonic – Sanyo plans to invest more than 70% of its total investment over the next 3 years in its renewable energy and energy storage segments.Sanyo has never been as successful in the hyper competitive electronics market as other Japanese companies like Sony or Sharp.However its lithium batteries and solar panels possess cutting edge technology.Its solar panels with proprietary HIT technology rival the best in terms of efficiency and quality.
Panasonic after acquiring Sanyo has completely changed its strategy to become a major Green Player targeting a Major Percentage of Sales in the future to come from Green Products.Panasonic which is the world’s biggest Plasma TV producer is going to spend $1 Billion on Green Building investments.Panasonic will combine its Green Strengths with Sanyo’s to sell a complete Eco-Friendly Home complete with Solar Power,LED Lighting and Energy Storage and Efficiency capabilities.In Solar where Panasonic is the No. 3 player in Japan behind Sharp and Kyocera ,it is speeding up the expansion of solar capacity.It will spend more than $500 million aiming to triple its energy solutions business in Europe to 800 Million Euros by 2016.
3) Kyocera – Kyocera is Japan’s second largest solar panel producing company.The company recently won a major contract to build a solar farm in Thailand.Unlike other companies it has been slow off the blocks and unless it perks up its game,it is likey to become a even smaller company in the global scheme of things.
4) Mitsubishi – Mistubishi is another old time Japanese solar company which has a low profile solar module and system business.The company is known for its high quality panels and has a decent presence in USA and Japan.However like Kyocera it has not been aggressive enough leading to loss in marketshare.
5) Mitsui - Mitsui Engineering and Shipping,one of Japan’s huge zaibatsus is planning a foray into the solar energy market as well.The Company is being supported in its initiative by METI which will collaborate with the Tunisian government in setting up a combined gas solar hybrid plant.A 5 MW Solar CSP plant will be set up by 2013 to demonstrate the technology.The company also owns a solar system business in the US after acquiring Sunwize
6) Toshiba – Toshiba the Japanese Giant known for its Global Leadership in Nuclear Power Equipment,Electronics and Memory Businesses has decided to become a big player in the Solar EPC business.This strategy is quite different from the other global conglomerates entering the Solar Energy Field.South Korean Players like Samsung,LG,Hanwha and Hyundai are all building Crystalline Silicon Modules.Toshiba wants to enter the Smart Grid business by leveraging its experiece of the Solar EPC business.It is already in the process of building a 10 MW plant in Bulgaria and plans to generate around $2 Billion Dollars annually from US and Europe by 2015
7) Honda – Honda,the Japanese auto giant has also joined the Solar Energy Race by selling Thin Film Modules based on CIGs technology.Japan’s conglomerates like Sharp,Kyocera,Mitsubishi and Panasonic already have big solar manufacturing operations with Sharp being the largest Solar Company in the World.Honda which has a small presence in the Solar Energy through its subsidiary Honda Soltec is expanding its lines of modules for the domestic market.
8 ) Solar Frontier - Solar Frontier is a subsidiary of Showa Shell Sekiyu and is listed on the Japanese Stock Exchange.The Company has big plans for the Solar Energy Market planning to increase its capacity by more than 10 times in 2011 to around 1 Gw in total.All its 3 plants are located in Miyazaki in Japan and uses previous plasma plant of Hitachi.Solar Frontier claims 11.5% efficiency for its CIS modules which are expected to go upto 14% by 2014It has signed a distribution deal with GE to sells its Copper Indium Selenide (CIS) Panels in USA
Japan has a large electricity market and it needs to really ramp up renewable energy in order to meet Kyoto Protocol targets.With solar costs declining at a rapid pace and a strong domestic industry,Solar Energy in Japan is set for good growth in the future.The government and METI also seem to have again shifted their focus towards solar energy after 5 yeaers of hibernation.Investing in Green Industry has become the main strategy for most of the Japanese Zaibatsus and Solar Energy is arguably the most important Green Sector.
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