Japan shipments in slight fall but 7GW+ shipped already this financial year

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Total shipments of PV modules in Japan for the third quarter of the 2014 Japanese financial year stood at 2.46GW, representing a 4% fall from the previous quarter, according to new figures from the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA).

The industry group released its figures for October to December 2014. The statistics show that despite a recent series of challenges, including the temporary halt of grid connection approvals at five of the nation’s 10 regional electric power companies during the period, domestic shipments were higher in the most recent figures than for the equivalent period of last year, by about 10%.

Domestic shipments were at 2.239GW, still representing the vast majority of the total 2.46GW for the quarter. In Q3 2013, these had been reported by JPEA as 2.04GW.

The latest figures bring the total volume of modules shipped for the first three quarters of the year to 7.035GW, a strong performance compared with last year’s 5.84GW for the equivalent period. Of that 7GW-plus, 6.507GW of modules were domestically produced.

Incidentally, total shipment figures for last financial year, from April 2013 to March 2014 as reported by JPEA, came to 8.625GW with just 79.6MW exported; the total is therefore roughly in line with an estimate from analyst Dr Hiroshi Matsukawa of RTS PV that more than 8GW of PV was installed in Japan last year.

Also worth noting is that unlike other territories such as the UK, where feed-in tariff (FiT) rates are set at the time of connection to the grid, Japanese PV projects are certified to receive approval for the FiT during the development stage. This means that a final quarter rush of the type seen in Britain as developers race to connect to the grid before their desired FiT rate expires is highly unlikely.

Once again as might be expected, 90% of domestically produced modules, including those turned around using foreign-made cells, were for use in the domestic market.

Non-residential applications continue to dominate, with only around 21% of domestically shipped modules used for residential and the remaining 79% used for commercial or ground mounted PV plants.

Accordingly, of the 1.67GW of domestically produced cells, the majority shipped, 1.07GW, was in the 200W to 300W power class, with just over half a gigawatt of cells between 100W and 200W and the remainder in the 100W or 300W-plus class.

Japan has five years of its FiT policy left to run and is expected to put out solid future targets for renewables in the national energy mix during this year. According to recent conversations with representatives of Japanese companies including Kyocera and Solar Frontier, a robust demand scenario is expected in the medium term.

Solar Frontier spokesman Hideki Gakumazawa, told PV Tech that he anticipated “6-8GW of installations per year over the coming 3-4 years”. While the longer term is more uncertain, Gakumazawa, as with others in the industry, saw solar as having an important role to play in Japan’s energy future.

“Japan’s energy landscape is undergoing a major transition. One thing that is clear, though, is that renewables have a significant role to play. Solar energy is a clean, renewable source of energy. It supports economic growth, and as part of a system of new energy management technologies, it opens the door to implementing more efficient energy solutions.”

Energy storage is likely to be one of these new technologies to be implemented – Kyocera’s Ichiro Ikeda said that his company would be putting more time and effort into enabling self-consumption models of PV system ownership, in common with other maturing markets and especially at residential level. Another reason for this expected shift towards residential and small-scale commercial solar by Kyocera and the wider market is the diminishing quantity of land available for new ground mount PV projects.

“In order to reduce the burden on the electricity grid, we expect that the market will shift from purchasing power from utilities to self consumption,” Ikeda said.

“The FiT system has led to the rapid implementation of solar power in Japan. We believe that it is important to make solar energy more usable and lead the transition to a self consuming market by offering modules with higher efficiency as well as enhancing related equipment and systems such as storage batteries and Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS).”

Finally, Ikeda offered a warning for the future of PV in Japan – a reminder of the purpose and role solar can play in society and the environment, as opposed to the targeting of high returns by individual companies.

“We believe that the purpose and cause for promoting solar energy are to solve environmental and energy issues, and that the FiT system is a method to achieve this.

“We feel that the FiT system, in other words investment returns, have become the purpose in itself in Europe and Japan, and that less importance is being placed on the initial cause. Promotion of solar energy should not solely be aimed for generating profit for investors but on preserving the global environment and cultivating a society with less dependence on primary energy,” Ikeda said.

Read more about Japan's latest challenges and the domestic solar industry's outlook for the future in Volume 2 of PV Tech Power, available to read online now.

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