First Solar heading to Japan to build PV power plants and tap residential market

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With an initial plan to invest around US$100 million, First Solar said it would build PV power plants in the booming Japanese market, both directly and with Japanese companies in partnership. Japan has not previously been a target market for First Solar with its CdTe thin-film modules.

The company noted that the Japanese government has set a target to install 28GW by 2020. Market research firms are in alignment that the Japanese market  – in the next two years is expected to one of the largest after China – spurring overall record global demand.

Joseph Kishkill, Chief Commercial Officer, First Solar, said, “First Solar is the world’s largest developer of solar power plants, and a global leader providing solar technology solutions. We plan to invest in Japan by developing solar power plants both with our own team and through local partners. We believe this strategy will accelerate the adoption of clean and safe solar power in Japan. We welcome partnerships with Japanese companies who seek project investments and complete solar solutions.”

The company said that it had established a Japan operating subsidiary, First Solar Japan GK, and opened an office in Tokyo.

JX Nippon to sell TetraSun c-Si modules in Japan

First Solar also said in a separate statement that it had signed a distribution agreement through April 2015 to sell its yet to be produced high-performance TetraSun developed monocrystalline modules in Japan to the residential market through JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation.

“JX Nippon is the market leader in Japan in refining and marketing of oil through its ENEOS brand, and is also engaged in new energy business in order to strive to become an integrated energy company. Hiroya Nishijima, SVP, JX Nippon, said, “TetraSun, manufactured by First Solar, is a unique technology that can deliver high performance and high quality solar energy solutions. The agreement will provide a new and valuable option for our customers.”

First Solar had noted when it acquired TetraSun that one of its aims was to distribute the technology in Japan.

TetraSun's majority shareholder had been JX Nippon.

James Hughes, CEO, First Solar, said, “JX’s far-reaching distribution and our technology expertise will combine to deliver high quality solar power solutions to Japan.”

High-performance branded modules have long been the preferred choice in the Japanese residential market due to typically smaller rooftop space. Companies such as Panasonic (HIT) modules and SunPower’s Maxeon-cell based modules have strong market penetration.

Module shipments accounted for approximately 26% of SunPower's volume in the recently reported third quarter of 2013, a 130% increase, year-over-year. 

SunPower operates in the Japanese residential market through electronics giant, Toshiba and has provided modules already for utility-scale projects in Japan this year.

Denis De Ceuster, CEO of TetraSun spent 12-years at SunPower, which included a spell as director of solar cell R&D.

Production of TetraSun's cell/module technology is expected to start in 2014. Certifications, including those required for the Japanese market are rumoured to be ongoing.

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