Solar Frontier posts first positive quarterly results; sales hit US$833 million in 2012

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Solar Frontier strengthened its position as the closest thin-film PV module manufacturer competitor to First Solar in 2012, posting record revenue of US$833 million (JPY78.2 billion).

The Japanese CIS thin-film technology leader reported an 18.9% increase in sales for the full year. The company reduced its operating loss to JPY15.4 billion in 2012, a JPY13.4 billion reduction from the previous year.

Solar Frontier makes up the vast majority of Showa Shell Sekiyu’s Energy Solution Business segment.

Solar Frontier posted an operating income of 15.4 billion yen in 2012, up by 13.4 billion yen compared to the previous year. Significantly, the company reported a small operating income of JPY0.1 billion for the fourth quarter of 2012, the first time the company has reported positive quarterly operating income since starting manufacturing operations in 2010.

Showa Shell Sekiyu noted in its annual report that the company had been successful in expanding solar sales both in Japan and overseas in 2012, though highlighted that strong demand in Japan due to the new FiT was a key factor in its growth as its boosted its sales operations in the country.

Showa Shell Sekiyu noted that it had been one of two Japanese domestic module manufacturers to have been selected for 2,000 rooftop installations on Lawson's Japan-based stores in 2012.

The company also highlighted its success in overseas markets as Solar Frontiers CIS thin-film modules were used on PV projects by NRG Solar LLC and EDF Renewable Energy, formerly enXco in the US.

Production update

Showa Shell Sekiyu said that it experienced module ASP declines throughout 2012; however Solar Frontier was able to boost module efficiencies and lower production costs at its 900MW flagship Kunitomi plant.

The company had halted production at its smaller 60MW No.2 plant as the Kunitomi plant ramped capacity, also supporting cost reductions. Currently, No.2 plant is being considered as an advanced R&D facility for new products.

Solar Frontier is said to be producing in volume CIS modules with 13% conversion efficiencies.

Showa Shell Sekiyu also recognised ongoing R&D on CZTS thin-film solar modules, via its joint research with IBM Corporation, amongst others. According to the company its CZTS thin-film solar modules achieved a record conversion efficiency of 11.1%. The company is also working with Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) as a future partner in a joint research project to further boost CZTS thin-film efficiencies.

In 2013, the company expects to further grow its solar business, though did not give guidance for its energy solution business.

The company is also building a presence in the downstream EPC and project development sector with partnerships in its domestic as well as overseas markets.

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