Small in, large out as PV Japan show gets underway

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The PV Japan show, kicking off today, will see some of Japan’s biggest names in solar look to diversify their range of products and services, while foreign firms continue their attempts to make inroads into the Japanese market.

Despite recent revelations that a backlog of un-built PV projects in Japan is becoming a political issue, interest in Japan’s market shows no sign of waning, with all the big global names in solar attending the event.

This year, a shift in emphasis away from large-scale projects is reflected in some of the products and services on show.

Domestic solar brands including Sharp, Solar Frontier and Kyocera will be among those in attendance in Tokyo. A number of larger firms are diversifying their offerings, with Sharp demonstrating energy storage technology the company has developed in the US as well as its latest smart energy and home energy management systems. Sharp will also conduct a video presentation of its recent engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) work and its latest building integrated PV (BIPV) designs.

Thin-film specialist Solar Frontier’s main focus will be on its latest module, Solacis Neo, which is a lightweight design aimed at the rooftop market. The company claimed the 100w module reduces module weight down from around 14kg for an average existing module, to 8kg for Solacis Neo. Solacis Neo is marketed under the name Powerslim in other markets including the UK. The Japanese solar industry is currently seeing increased activity in the rooftop markets, with better margins in the commercial rooftop segment, although residential rooftops are also thought to present a good opportunity. Solar Frontier will also be launching a 15 year guarantee for all new peripherals such as power conditioners and junction boxes at the show.

Kyocera will be showing a single crystal silicon solar cell, the company’s first, which is aimed squarely at the Japanese residential market. The company claims the cell is designed to be high efficiency and offer a good yield on limited rooftop space. According to Kyocera, the cell has an efficiency of 19%, which could be raised to 22% with design improvements in future.

Japanese firms are not alone in looking to add value to their products by diversifying. Hanwha Q Cells announced that in addition to exhibiting its latest prototype and commercially available cells alike at the show, the company will showcase developments in its independent power producer business, which it says it is looking to expand aggressively in Japan. Q Cells is currently responsible for 2MW of generation from a solar park in Japan and is seeking to get that figure up to 30MW by the end of this year.

US solar panel and equipment manufacturer SunPower announced a 29MW DC panel supply deal with a Japanese firm, Nangoku Corporation ahead of the show. SunPower will supply its high efficiency E20/327 Solar Panels for use on a large-scale PV plant project that Nangoku is building on the Japanese island of Kagoshima. Kagoshima, part of the Kyushu islands to the south of mainland Japan, is already the site of Japan’s largest PV plant to date, a 70MW installation by Kyocera which also has a visitor centre.

European PV panel supplier REC will showcase what it claims are two new concepts in cell design at the show. REC will display its ‘half-cut’ cell concept, which as the name implies is a half-sized solar cell, which aims to increase the efficiency and fill factor of the cell and therefore the yield. The half-cut cell is also fitted with four busbars, which REC claims will lower resistance and increase current, as well as featuring backside passivation and a junction box split into three parts. In addition, the company will be showing what it claims is the next generation of its REC Peak Energy cells, which includes a white encapsulant layer behind the cells for trapping more light.

Alongside product exhibitions will be seminars that include upstream and downstream topics. Professor Makoto Konagi of the Tokyo Institute of Technology will discuss a research project, ‘Future PV Innovation’, that aims to develop a lab-based solar cell with a conversion efficiency of 30%. Konagi is president of the Japan Society for Advanced Physics as well as sitting on a number of international and domestic advisory panels for research into PV and other technologies. 

Downstream, lawyer Takuto Ichimura will discuss grid connection and certification of generation facilities, a hot topic, if not the major topic of discussion in the near future for PV in Japan. Dr Hiroshi Matsukawa of analysis firm RTS PV told PV Tech recently that the backlog of PV projects that have applied for equipment accreditation or interconnection but have yet to be built is causing a backlash against solar in Japan as consumer energy prices rise. According to Matsukawa the Japanese government is currently seeking a legal way to cancel equipment accreditation on a number of projects, which it claims would decrease pressure on the industry.

On a macro level, the executive forum will be attended by Keisuke Murakami of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which includes energy in its remit. Murakami will discuss the feed-in tariff programme to date and its future prospects. At present the scheme is intended to expire in 2020 after a period of managed degression, with FiTs expected to fall by around 10% each fiscal year, in line with falling equipment costs. In May, Hiroshi Matsukawa of RTS PV told PV Tech that preparation for the post-FiT era is the Japanese solar industry’s most pressing concern.

Unlike in Europe and the US, deals are not often made on the show floor in Japan. Usually, Japanese trade shows are used primarily as a first point of contact and to exhibit products, according to industry sources. Often press announcements will be prepared beforehand and made at the shows, hence there have been several high profile releases in the week leading up to the show, such as Solar Frontier’s recent top level appointments and First Solar’s module supply deal with distributor XSOL.

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