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Japanese Solar Panels – Comprehensive Guide to Manufacturers, Cost, Efficiency &Technology

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Updated: 7/06/2016

Japanese Solar Panel companies

Sharp, Kyocera, Panasonic-Sanyo, Mitsubishi were the top solar panel producers in the world. 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. However the low cost Chinese solar module producers have pushed back most of the Japanese companies. The Japanese government grants 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 almost absent, there remain large numbers of rooftop solar installations.

Top Japanese  Solar Panel Companies

1) Sharp

Latest Update on Sharp

Sharp which used to the biggest solar panel maker in terms of revenues till a couple of years ago, has been fighting bankruptcy fears. It has posted humongous losses and is being kept afloat by Japanese banks. The company is in advanced stages of being bought over by Taiwanese company Foxconn. As it is, Sharp has sold off its non-Japanese solar operations a couple of years ago and now is losing revenues in the Japanese market.

History:

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.

Sharp Solar Panels Manufacturing

Sharp was one of the biggest seller of solar panels globally and has a massive distribution network.  Though the quality of the solar panels made by Sharp is much better than normal crystalline solar modules,note the premium that you have to pay is much more. The lower cost of  solar panels made by Asian companies has made Sharp look to move its solar panel factories away from its home base. In volumes, Cd-Te leader First Solar has already overtaken Sharp while Suntech, Yingli, Trina are also fast catching up as the Chinese displace the Japanese in global solar rankings. Sharp’s c-Si business is not cost competitive with the company making very low margins despite much higher ASPs. It has been increasing outsourcing from Taiwanese solar cell companies in order to reduce costs. However that remains a losing strategy for Sharp despite its premium quality reputation. The company has decided to increase the focus on amorphous Silicon (a-Si) Technology building a massive  1 GW plant in Sakai.

Sharp has along history of solar panel manufacturing and have  solar pv modules in atellites, telecommunications, water pumps, remote houses and safety signals, to grid-tied homes, businesses and large solar farms.

 

Sharp PV Modules Review

i) Sharp Residential Solar Panels

Sharp sells a 235-250 W solar panels.This black frame module  comes with a standard 25-year limited warranty on power output and 10-year limited warranty on materials and workmanship. They come with tempered glass, EVA lamination and weatherproof backskin which enhances cell performance and life.

These are 60 solar celled polycrystallinemulti-purpose  modules. The ND-Q235F4 and ND-F2Q235 are more sleeker and aesthetically pleasing. they install faster than other conventional modules. They are manufactured in USA and Japan.

Module Watt Efficiency (%)
ND-250QCS 250W 15.3
ND-240QCJ 240W 14.7
ND-Q235F4 235W 14.4
ND-F2Q235 235W 14.4

ii) Sharp Commercial Solar Panels

Sharp sells a wide variety of solar panels for the commercial market, ranging from 240-300 Watts. These are polycrystalline 60 celled or 72 celled modules. Note these solar panels are manufactured in varied locations and qualify for domestic content requirements which exist in Ontario and USA as well. They come with 25-year limited warranty on power output and and 10-year limited warranty on materials or workmanship. The commercial panels use advanced surface texturing process to increase light absorption. They also come with tempered glass, EVA lamination and weatherproof backskin which enhances cell performance and life.

Module Watt Efficiency (%) No.of cells
ND-F4Q300 300 15.3 72
ND-250QCS 250 15.3 60
ND-240QCJ 240 14.7 60

iii) Sharp Solar Panels for Utility Market

Sharp mainly sells its amorphous silicon thin film solar panels for this segment of the market. The wattage of Sharp thin film panels for utility market begins from 115W. Thin Film Solar Panels are more suited for large ground mounted solar farms, which have no space constraints and where cost is more important since it saves on installation and labor costs. Thin Film Solar gives a better performance under high temperature and low light than normal crystalline solar panels. Sharp is selling a wide variety of a-Si Solar Panels with 115-135 Watt Power Ratings.

2)  Kyocera

Latest Update on Kyocera

Kycoera is reporting lower revenues,as a result of lack of presence in other competitive markets and as the Japanese solar boom starts to taper off with a reduction in growth.

History:

Kyocera is one of the oldest solar panel manufacturers and is second only to Sharp amongst the Japanese companies. It  also manufactures industrial ceramics, telecommunications equipment, office document imaging equipment, electronic components, semiconductor packages, cutting tools, and components for medical and dental implant systems. Kyocera Solar Corp. in Japan was founded in 1996, and Kyocera Solar, Inc. in the U.S. in 1999. The company has production bases in Japan, Mexico, Europe and China and is planning a factory in California as well. The company plans to reach 1000 MW of production by 2013. The company manufactures solar panels and is actively engaged in commercial and utility solar parks.

Kyocera Solar Modules Review

Kyocera sells both grid tie and off-grid series of solar panels for residential market.

I) Grid Tie Solar Panels

i) KD300-80 series – 80 cells, 600 V modules, 325-330 W

ii) KU300-80 series – 80 cells, 1000 V modules, 325-330 W

iii) KD200-60 series – 60 cells, 600 V modules, 260-265 W

iv) KU200-60 series – 60 cells, 1000 V modules, 260-265 W

v) KD100-36 series – 36 cells, 140 W modules

II) Off-grid Solar Panels

1) KD145-36 SX series – 36 cells, 140 W modules

ii) KD100-36 series – 36 cells, 140 W modules

3) Panasonic (earlier Sanyo)

Latest Update on Panasonic:

Panasonic is thinking about shutting off it 345 MW solar cell plant in Nishikinohama as the cost of the production is too high. Note Panasonic produces high efficiency solar cells using the n-type monocrystalline technology similar to Sunpower. However, the cost of production is too high to allow Panasonic to sell except in a few niche market. The company which is banking on selling integrated solar energy + energy efficiency homes, is finding it tough to run Japanese factories. It has recently set up a large Malaysian factory which should keep running.

History:

Sanyo Solar was one the biggest Japanese solar companies along with Sharp, Kyocera and Mitsubishi. After Panasonic bought Sanyo, the emphasis on the renewable energy green division has been increased. Sanyo had already been metamorphizing into a green company from an Electronics company before Panasonic bought it for a very cheap price. Panasonic 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 announced 22.5% efficiency level for its solar module based on mass-production technology.

Panasonic PV Modules Review

Panasonic sells PV solar modules under the HIT brand which is derived from the technology it uses. The HIT (Hetero junction with Intrinsic Thin Layer) solar panels are one of the high efficiency solar panels available. HIT is designed specifically to maximize the energy generation in minimum space and with the utility electrical grids, roof top solution providing high efficiency and customized energy solutions for all applications. Panasonic sells most of its solar panels in the 240-294 Watts range, with more than 19% efficiency.

Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin Layer Technology

Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin Layer HIT Technology uses a thin layer of amorphous silicon along with a layer of crystalline silicon which increases the amount of sunlight that is cap. You can read about different types of solar panels here.

1. HIT modules are suitable for high temperature zones
2. HIT modules generate more power even at low light condition
3. HIT modules require around 22 to 25% less space compared to other Poly modules
4. HIT modules weigh 25% less compared to other Poly modules
5. Energy generation per Sq Mtr is way higher as compared to other Poly modules.

Types of Panasonic HIT Solar Panels

i) Slim: N240/ N245 – Measuring 160 cm in length and 80 cm in width, used for small and compact rooftop installations. They were introduced in 2014. 

ii) Compact: N285 – A perfect combination of small size with high power. This panel was introduced in 2015 with 285 W and just 150 cm in length.

iii) Powerful: N330/ N325 – As the name suggests, these panels have the highest output and are the newest invention in the HIT series. Occupying just 1.35 meter square with power output of 330 W.

4) Mitsubishi

Latest update on Mitsubishi:

Mitsubishi too is losing its decade long leading position in the solar market. It had better technology and the advantage of a large domestic market in Japan. However, it was adversely affected with the boom in the European market and the entry of the Chinese solar panel companies.

History:

The Japanese conglomerate with diversified global interests has a big presence in solar and wind energy as well. The company is known for its high quality panels and has a decent presence in USA and Japan. Mitsubishi is a part of the consortium which is looking to set up huge solar power plants in Thailand as well. But now with Japan reaffirming it commitment to renewable energy and on track to kill nuclear energy, Mitsubishi is turning its focus towards the domestic market. Mitsubishi is planning to set up a number of solar power plants in the country to take advantage of the Japan solar Feed in Tariffs.

Mitsubishi Solar Panels Types

All Mitsubishi Electric modules have a 25-year power output warranty and are manufactured in an ISO 14001 certified factory, sold as diamond Premium modules.

I) Residential Solar Panels are sold under MLE Series. These range in between 265 – 275 W with 10-year materials and workmanship warranty and efficiency levels of 16.3% and 16.6%.

II) Commercial Solar Panels are sold under MJE Series. These range in between 265 – 270 W with 10-year materials and workmanship warranty and efficiency levels of 16.1% and 16.3%.

Where are  Mitsubishi Solar Panels made

Mitsubishi does all the manufacturing and research of its solar panels and solar cells at its factories and centers in Japan. So most of the solar products from Mitsubishi are made in Japan itself and are of high quality.

5) Solar Frontier

Latest Update on Solar Solar Frontier:

Solar Frontier has been a successful player in the thin film market. It recently reached a record efficiency level of 22.3% for its CIGS cells and has an ambitious target to reach 30% efficiency levels. The company is a close competitor to teh US based thin film leader First Solar. Solar Frontier is also raming up its production at its 150 MW Tohoku facility in Japan and expects cost of production to come to as low as 30 cents/ watt.

History:

The world’s largest CIS solar energy solutions provider, with over 35 years of experience and over 3 GW of global shipments. The Japanese company which was earlier known as Showa Shell Solar. The company joined the rank of major solar companies once it started the new 900MW “Kunitomi” production plant in Miyazaki. Not only has the company started big in production, it also rapidly signed deals around the globe in India, Middle East and America.

Solar Frontier Solar Modules Types

Modules    W      Efficiency (%)
SF145-S    145      11.8
SF150-S    150      12.2
SF155-S    155       12.6
SF160-S    160      13
SF165-S    165       13.4
SF170-S    170      13.8

Where are Solar Frontier Solar Panels Made

All the Three Solar Frontier Solar Panel Production Plants are located in Miyazaki in Japan which used to house the former plasma plant of Hitachi. The Company is spending around $1 Billion in Capex for building the 1 GW capacity implying roughly $1 capex/watt which is not exactly cheap though not very expensive either.

Solar Frontier Panels Technology

Solar Frontier makes solar panels using the CIS (copper indium selenium) technology, which is different from the normal silicon crystalline solar panels made by a majority of the solar companies. This thin film technology is also different from that used by the largest thin film solar player First Solar. This thin film technology has the highest solar cell efficiency. However its production is not easy as four different materials are used. CIGs Technology is also used in making flexible thin solar panels which can be used for camping, BIPV and other applications where weight is an issue. The CIS or CIGs technology is used by a number of other companies like  Saint Gobain- Hyundai, TSMC, Miasole, OerlikonSolar, the now bankrupt Solyndra and Nanosolar.

Some features of CIS solar panels:

  • High electricity yield in real-world conditions
  • Greater environmental friendliness
  • Refined aesthetics

Japanese Solar Panel Cost

Solar panel manufacturers have increased tremendously in the last decade. You can look at various other biggest and best solar panel producers in the world here, to get an idea about the options you have in the market. Sanyo Solar Panels should be bought if you are looking for a premium product which occupies less space and gives high efficiency. The price that you have to pay for a Sanyo Solar Panel is almost double that of normal solar panel from mainstream silicon panel producers. There are cheap solar panels from China, if space is not a constraint and you are not looking for the absolute best quality in the market. Due to these reasons, the Chinese solar panel manufacturers are giving tough competition to the Japanese solar panel manufacturers. There is no doubt that teh Japanese solar panels are superior in quality when compared to most of teh Chinese panels. However some of the Tier 1 Chinese solar panels like Trina Solar, Jinko Solar, JA Solar and Canadian Solar are of good quality and better priced when compared to these Japanese counterparts. While most of the Indian panels can be bought at 40 cents/ watt, the Chinese panels are available for ~55 cents/ watt. However Japanese solar panels are priced at a premium and are not geographically well placed when compared to the Chinese. Hence these Japanese solar panels are losing on competition today. Though the market today is more aware and is looking at installing better quality modules, given the long 25 years of service. The Japanese need to increase their geographical diversification to benefit from this trend.

 

 

PG

Sneha Shah

I am Sneha, the Editor-in-chief for the Blog. We would be glad to receive suggestions, inputs & comments on GWI from you guys to keep it going! You can contact me for consultancy/trade inquires by writing an email to greensneha@yahoo.in

2 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. RAMZI M. FADHL

    HI SNEHA

    which Japanese company is the best solar panel manufacturer.

    B.RGRDS
    RAMZI M. FADHL
    SENIOR TRADING ENGINEER
    ALL SALEH TRADING COMPANY
    REP. OF YEMEN
    TEL : 967-1-618096
    FAX : 967-1-626744
    MOB : 967-738215215/771773764
    EMAIL : ramzi@allsalehco.com
    Website : http://www.allsalehco.com

  2. Sneha Shah

    @Ramzi,

    Panasonic, Kyocera