PV and batteries could be cheaper than grid for Japan’s households by 2018, claims Solar Frontier

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email

Solar Frontier is not only targeting a widely reported reduction in costs around US$0.40 per watt within two years, but is also hoping to reach grid parity in Japan for residential PV systems with integrated battery storage in the next three to four years.

The thin-film manufacturer and developer has elaborated to PV Tech on remarks by its CEO Atsuhiko Hirano, reported by Bloomberg at the beginning of this week. Following the opening of the company’s latest 150MW plant in its homeland in April this year, Hirano reportedly said that this was the minimum size of factory necessary for efficient production for Solar Frontier’s thin-film CIS technology.

Solar Frontier’s general manager for communications, Hideki Gakumazawa, confirmed the company believes it can lower costs at the 150MW plant, in Japan’s Tohoku region, to the US$0.40 per watt threshold “within two years”.

Grid parity on home turf

Over the past couple of years Solar Frontier has been on a global push into other markets including Europe and the US, including an expansion of its downstream project business with the acquisition of Gestamp Solar’s North American utility-scale pipeline. However, Gakumazawa said that the near-attainment of grid parity in Japan’s residential market would make Solar Frontier’s solar competitive with the grid next year, and at or below grid parity even with batteries included – if cost reduction strategies are successful.

“…We believe we can provide residential systems that are competitive with and soon-to-be cheaper than electricity from the grid. More precisely, we are aiming to bring the residential system price, currently averaging across the industry between 300,000 to 350,000 yen per kilowatt-peak, to 290,000 yen per kilowatt-peak by 2016,” Gakumazawa said.

“And including storage, we are targeting grid parity by 2018-2019.”

Other countries beside Japan are also reaching the end of their feed-in tariff regimes, including Germany and the UK, both booming solar markets at times over the past five years. In some cases this has come more suddenly than expected. The value proposition for solar in Germany at residential scale is almost entirely in onsite self-consumption by the system owner, saving money on their bills rather than making money on a FiT scheme.

For Solar Frontier, Gakumazawa said, the shift towards self-consumption in Japan will be partly fuelled by knowledge gleaned from Germany and other increasingly self-consumption driven markets.

“The shift from FiT-driven markets toward “self-consumption” markets has already been taking place in countries such as Germany. So we are actually incorporating learnings in Japan from these markets.”

While in Japan, it has long been customary to sell household PV systems in complete ‘kit’ bundles, including panels and power electronics, Gakumazawa echoed something Hirano told PV Tech in a previous interview – that Solar Frontier saw standardised, bundled kits, including CIS-optimised inverter and with a battery as an option, in a simplified package, as being key for selling into these grid parity markets.

Standardising the kits, Gakumazawa said, “also enable simpler and quicker planning and installation, further contributing to cost reduction”.

Thin-film competition

In 2014, when Solar Frontier’s newest production facility in Tohoku, Japan was under construction, it was part of a total 2GW of new thin-film capacity announcements, marking something of a comeback for the technology. Hideki Gakumazawa confirmed that CIS modules from the Tohoku plant will hit 14.7% efficiency as the plant ramps up.

Atsuhiko Hirano has long been vocal in his opinion that thin-film technology can compete in the global PV market. PV Tech asked Gakumazawa if Solar Frontier expected more competition within this market, or whether it would be a question of competing with rival cell technologies.

“Thin film has proven to be competitive in terms of performance and cost. The market, though, has proven that it isn’t just a matter of technology. It’s also about corporate strength, resources and strategy. Therefore, we compete primarily with crystalline silicon in the market and anticipate this will be the case for the medium term. While news from thin film manufacturers remains mixed, we do see strong potential for thin film to grow in capacity, and there are now also announcements for new capacity additions,” he said.

1GW capacity addition hints

Finally, Bloomberg reported that Solar Frontier was considering production capacity additions of 1GW outside Japan, but CEO Hirano had declined to give specifics. Looking for clues, PV Tech asked if the production sites were likely to be spread across a number of sites or concentrated in one or two locations.

The company has previously said that its modestly sized 150MW Tohoku plant would be the “blueprint” for Solar Frontier to set up a modular, scalable method of production suitable for locating as close to the end destination for its products as possible, essentially to keep costs low. While Gakumazawa remained tight-lipped on specifics, he did say there was a strong likelihood of future capacity expansions being spread across multiple locations.

“…We are looking at multiple areas with strong demand and supply networks in place,” Gakumazawa said.

“The Tohoku Plant is also designed to be modular; in other words, this is the design that overseas plant/plants would take with the option of scaling up the size in units, while enabling us to construct the plant more efficiently.

19 August 2021
The utility-scale PV market is poised for exponential growth and yet the industry still has many fundamental opportunities to improve on standards and best practice. Tracker shade loss has been one of those topics that deserve more attention, but has been typically handled by derate factors rather than trying to accurately forecast the loss over the life of the system. Join Nextracker’s subject matter experts, Aron Dobos and Neelesh Umachandran, and Rounak Kharait, director of solar energy assessments at DNV, for a webinar about why shade modeling matters and recommendations on what the solar industry should do about it.
25 August 2021
Energy Next is a new industry exhibition focusing on the latest renewable energy and energy efficiency technology, which will be held for the first time in 2021 in Sydney, Australia alongside the Clean Energy Council’s Australian Clean Energy Summit, the peak gathering of leaders driving Australia's energy transformation. Organised by the same people behind Australia’s largest clean energy event, All-Energy Australia, Energy Next will give visitors two days of access to key suppliers in the industry, free-to-attend professional development and industry workshops, and networking opportunities to better understand clean energy issues and solutions and learn about the latest developments in this transformational, dynamic sector.
25 August 2021
The Intersolar Summit Brasil Nordeste takes place in Fortaleza, Brazil. It addresses leading local and international experts on solar power and renewable energy in the region. The Summit’s mission is to provide in-depth education, enable high-quality networking opportunities, expand the use of PV technologies at regional and national level and strengthen the local PV industry. The Intersolar Summit Brasil Nordeste is organized by Intersolar South America - Latin America’s largest exhibition and conference for the solar industry: Solar Promotion International GmbH, Pforzheim, Freiburg Management and Marketing International GmbH (FMMI) and Aranda Eventos & Congressos Ltda, São Paulo as co-organizer.
25 August 2021
Join us to hear directly from the CTOs and heads-of-research from the top-20 cell/wafer producers to the PV industry today. The event will focus on predicting the key metrics underpinning the next big shift to n-type with answers to the key questions: When will the transition to n-type happen? Which companies will be first to 10 GW capacity and production? Who will be the key equipment suppliers for the new production lines? Which n-type process flow/architecture will emerge as the front-runner? What will polysilicon purity and wafer thickness levels look like for optimized n-type manufacturing? What will the upstream poly/wafer supply-chain look like in 5 years from now?
26 August 2021
In this webinar, JA Solar will present its product portfolio based on the latest technologies to improve your PV projects, ensuring maximum reliability and performance. During the webinar we will receive insight from JA Solar about its solar technology roadmap and how the manufacturer is providing customers with innovative solutions to suit their needs, while we will also analyse how to determine the best product solution for each solar project.
6 September 2021
The 38th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition will be held online from 6 - 10 September 2021, allowing PV experts from all around the globe to participate with just one click! The EU PVSEC is the world's leading forum for PV Research and Development and the biggest Conference on PV Solar Energy worldwide. That is why PV experts from all around the globe are keen on gathering together each year to be part of this specialist’s event, to present and discuss the latest developments in Photovoltaics, to network and to conduct business.

Read Next

PV Tech Premium
July 30, 2021
Not only will solar be the dominant source of new power generation in Europe by 2025, cementing its position as the third largest market for solar globally, but the continent has placed the asset class at the very heart of its COVID-19 recovery strategy. As part of a week-long special report on PV Tech Premium, Liam Stoker, Edith Hancock and Jules Scully explore the drivers for solar in Europe, the key markets and the challenges that remain.
July 30, 2021
First Solar has unveiled plans to construct a 3.3GWdc module assembly facility in India, bolstering its manufacturing footprint outside of the US.
July 30, 2021
Anglo-Australian mining company BHP, in partnership with Canada’s TransAlta Renewables, is to build two solar farms and a battery storage system to help power its Mt Keith and Leinster nickel mines in Western Australia
July 30, 2021
German energy giant RWE has upgraded its earnings forecast for 2021 after “exceptionally positive” earnings trend
July 29, 2021
Tracker and racking provider Arctech has delivered SkySmart II tracking system to a 575MW agriculture-sharing solar project located in Nangong City, Hebei Province, China.
July 29, 2021
Unigreen Energy, owned by Hevel majority shareholder Ream Management LLC, has broken ground on a wafer and cell manufacturing plant that will produce 1.3GW of silicon n-type monocrystalline ingots and wafers as well as 1GW of heterojunction technology (HJT) solar cells.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Webinars
August 19, 2021
At 9am (PT) | 6pm (CEST)
Solar Media Events
August 25, 2021
Solar Media Events
October 6, 2021
Solar Media Events
October 19, 2021