Japanese module firms maintain stranglehold on domestic market

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Domestic suppliers continue to dominate Japan’s shipments of solar modules, with 2.39GW of a total 2.57GW coming from Japanese companies in the second quarter of the Japanese fiscal year 2014, according to the latest figures from the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA).

The Japanese fiscal year begins in April each year. According to JPEA, for the period from August to October, the 2.39GW of solar modules shipped within the country represented 115% of demand for the same period of 2013. This was an increase of 26.8% on the previous quarter, when 1.88GW was shipped domestically.

Commercial and utility-scale projects appeared to be continuing to drive demand, with 78% of domestic modules shipped used for non-residential applications, while the remaining 22% was for the residential market.

The proportion of exported modules from Japan also saw an increase, JPEA reported. The number of modules reaching Europe increased dramatically, 640% year-on-year, and hit 32,583kW, while exports to the USA increased by 96% but still only accounted for 5,468kW of modules.

Meanwhile, exports to the rest of the world jumped by a relatively tame 39% year on year, hitting 10,585kW of the total 48,636kW exported. As a whole, module exports increased 129% year-on-year, while solar cell exports from Japan rose by 117% but still only totalled 17,712kW.

The Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association will publish monthly figures for shipments in future, in addition to the quarterly statistics it already produces, beginning with figures for October. The association reported that in October 644,018kW of solar modules were shipped, with 35 companies responding from a total of 37.

JPEA said the reasoning behind the new monthly announcements was that while official statistics are produced by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for each month, the METI stats come after a three-month lag. JPEA’s new reports, it claims, are being made in response to demand from the industry and beyond.

Earlier this month, JPEA put out a statement regarding two of the problems currently facing Japan’s solar industry, namely the grid connection issue and talk of an impending review of the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme. In the statement, dated 7 November, JPEA said recent decisions by a number of Japanese utilities, which also act as grid operators, to curtail acceptance for grid connection of PV have been misreported by the press.

JPEA describes itself more as a loosely organised group of companies within the PV industry than a trade body which also takes on advocacy issues, as with the USA’s Solar Energy Industries’ Association (SEIA) or the UK’s Solar Trade Association (STA). As such the latest statement from JPEA is more diplomatic and instructive than combative.

Presumably referring to Japanese mainstream media, JPEA said that reports stating utilities including Kyushu Electric Power have “stopped purchasing power and accepting applications” are incorrect. Instead, JPEA said it believed Kyushu's decision was made “pending the findings of the grid connection working group” set up by METI. JPEA said that while “anxiety” promoted “unnecessarily” by these reports was unfortunate, the concerns of the power companies that led to this situation were understandable.

JPEA reiterated the continuing importance of PV in Japan’s future, for energy security and environmental reasons. However, the statement recognised the instability solar can contribute to electricity networks, and reinforced the need to introduce PV in “the appropriate volume and range”. JPEA said that looking to the future, the industry would have to be able to sustain itself without dependency on FiTs and made vague references to the need to review and improve policies around project certification for solar.

At the beginning of this month, PV Tech reported that the Japanese government is considering a number of approaches in its review of FiTs, including the possible adoption of a scheme similar to Contracts for Difference (CfDs) which will be introduced in the UK next year. The UK government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), has confirmed that meetings have taken place with a delegation from Japan on the subject.

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