Capacity concentration: Sharp’s UK manufacturing facility will produce 500MW by Feb. 2011

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Sharp has revealed that it is set to increase annual production capacity at its UK-based manufacturing base (SUKM) in Wrexham, Wales, by 100%, doubling up from the current 250MW of crystalline solar cell modules per year to 500MW. The increase will begin in December 2010, with the aim of completion by February 2011.

SUKM, which is Sharp’s second international production base (the first located in the U.S.), began producing solar cell modules in the spring of 2004. The Japanese manufacturer must now expand its production capacity to meet the ever-growing global demand for solar cell modules.

With environmental government policies becoming more frequently apparent all over world – – for instance the recent implementation of the UK feed-in tariff – – solar cell module market requirements are expected to spike. To meet this demand, Sharp is now expanding its solar cell business from two sides-crystalline solar cells and thin-film solar cells. The company’s confident prediction for a large increase in demand is mirrored in the timescale it has given to complete this enlargement, increasing to double production in just seven months, with gradual upscale from December, is fast paced to say the least.

By increasing its capacity, Sharp will also push forward with a “local production for local consumption” approach in order to amplify cost competitiveness and shorten delivery times. This means that delivery to the UK will climb from 1% in 2009 to approximately 10% by 2011.

The total cost of this expansion is expected to cost Sharp around 4 billion yen.

“We wanted to prove to the Government and critics that if stability was put in [the UK market] then PV companies would invest in the country,” noted Andrew Lee, general manager of Sharp Solar in the UK. “We wanted to go further and deliver on our promises such as a solar academy to properly train installers in the UK.”

Starting in October, Sharp will be offering regular training courses for installers wanting to use its solar modules with programmes ranging from a couple of days to full weeks.

Lee said in an interview with PV-Tech that he sees this as crucial part of the overall expansion in module production at the Wrexham plant. As the market expands more, Sharp modules will be installed in the UK, requiring more fully trained installers, promoting correct procedures and installations that reflect the professional work needed at the start of real growth in the market.

From a UK market perspective, Lee said that he expects approximately 45MW to be installed in 2010, a tremendous increase over an installed base that was barely in double figures before the feed-in tariff was introduced in April, 2010. A 250MW market in 2012 makes sense, according to Lee.

“We used to export 99% of module production in the UK to Europe that has changed with 10% and more allocated to the UK market. This is a massive jump from the past and reflects the growth and long-term reality of the UK market,” added Lee.

In further good news for the UK market, Sharp is planning to make available higher efficiency cells that will see modules of over 200W available. Shipments from Japan are expected near the end of the year and will include back contacted cells for greater performance. Lee also noted that modules close to 300W are also planned for 2011.

Lee said that higher efficiency modules would be phased in at both new and existing lines at the Wrexham plant. He strongly believes that the stability now in place in the UK PV market will now allow the job creation promised, as well as a renewed focus on manufacturing and investment in the UK.

Additional reporting by Mark Osborne.

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