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issue: November 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

International Report: Japan
Expanded Online Edition: Japan Grows Solar

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by Wasaku Ishida, Japan correspondent, and president, JARN (Japan Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News)

Japanese OEMs see a big future in photovoltaics.

Shipments of solar cells are growing steadily, and total shipments of photovoltaic (PV) modules from Japanese manufacturers in the April-June quarter reached 258,912 kW. That is an increase of 36.1% over the same quarter in 2007.

Data from the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA) shows:

  • Domestic shipments in the April-to-June quarter were 45,612 kW, 17.6% of total shipments, and an increase of 5.9% over 2007.
  • Exports were 213,300 kW, for 82.4% of total shipments and up 45% on 2007.
  • Exports to Europe totaled 150,467 kW, for an increase of 42.5%. exports to the United states were 35,552 kW, up 30.8%.
  • Exports to other areas/countries were 27,281 kW, up 90%.
Japan government as well as its solar cell manufacturers intend to remain leaders in this potentially explosive industry. The manufacturers in Japan have ambitious production capacity expansion plans, as do manufacturers worldwide. In fact, the world’s major photovoltaic cell makers intend to nearly double their annual production capacity by 2010.

Globally, No. 1-ranked Q-Cells of Germany and No. 3 Suntech Power in China each intend to raise their production capacity to 1 million kW (1 GW) by 2009 and double it to over 2 million kW by 2010. The world’s fourth-largest producer, First Solar in the United States, also intends to double its production capacity to 1 GW in 2009.

Japan’s Solar Expansion

Sharp Corp., based in Osaka, is the biggest solar manufacturer in Japan and the second biggest globally. After an October 1 opening ceremony, Sharp began volume production at a new 2nd-generation thin-film solar cell production line at its Katsuragi Plant. The plant uses large-size glass substrates—at 1000 x 1400 mm, they’re about 2.7 times the area of conventional, 560 x 925 mm substrates.

Sharp also has a thin-film solar cell plant under construction in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture. The plant goes online in March 2010. Coupled with increases in crystalline cell production, Sharp plans to expand its total production capacity from about 0.7 million to 2 million kW in 2010.

Kyocera Corp., in Kyoto, is Japan’s second-largest solar cell maker and has plans to roughly double its production capacity to 0.5 million kW by the end of 2010.

Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd. (Tokyo) intends to expand its production capacity to 0.65 million kW by the end of 2010, or about 2.5 times its current capacity, by investing ¥80 billion (approx. US$0.8 billion) over three years.

Sanyo’s Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin-layer (HIT) technology results in hybrid solar cells composed of single crystalline silicon wafers surrounded by ultra-thin amorphous silicon layers. Right now, HIT offer the highest conversion efficiency level for mass-produced panels. But Sanyo foresees the need to build thin-film solar into a mainstay business—and will need funds and engineering skills to make that happen. In recent months it began discussions with Nippon Oil Corp. for a cooperative solar venture.

Mitsubishi Electric. Melco plans to expand its production capacity from its current capacity of 0.22 million kW to 0.6 million kW by the end of 2011.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. MHI constructed a new factory for manufacturing fine crystalline tandem type cells in Isahaya City, with an initial capacity of 0.05 million kW/year. MHI is now constructing a factory with a similar capacity adjacent to its first plant.

Fuji Electric Systems. Fuji Electric has developed a film-type amorphous cell. The company entered this field when its Kumamoto Plant came online at the end of 2006. It now intends to increase its capacity to 0.04 million kW by 2009.

Showa Shell Solar K.K. In July of this year, Showa Shell unveiled plans for the Atsugi Research Center in Kanagawa, Japan. The center will open in March 2009 to research CIS solar powered cell technology and begin collaborative research on mass production technology of solar modules with Ulvac, Inc.

Solar cells using CIS (copper indium selenide) material are as one of the most promising thin-film solar cell technologies because no silicon is used and new developments is bringing the high manufacturing cost down. Showa Shell wants to leverage its solar cell manufacturing expertise along with Ulvac’s technology for mass production of vacuum components to enhance CIS cell production efficiency. Showa Shell hopes to open a new plant in 2011 with annual production capacity of 1 GW.

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. Honda is in the solar cell business through its subsidiary Honda Soltec Co. Ltd., which opened its solar cell production plant in Kumamoto, Japan, in November 2007. Using CIGS thin film—made of a compound of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium—instead of silicon, Honda’s solar cell is manufactured using 50% less energy than conventional crystal silicon solar cells. This makes the solar cell more environmentally friendly even during the production stage.

Honda also began sales of solar cells for homes throughout Japan with 80 distributor locations and plans to accelerate sales by increasing the number of distributor locations to more than 200 by the end of 2008.

Japan’s Solar Future

The Japanese government reportedly regards photovoltaic power generation as one of the most promising sources of renewable energy and plans to encourage and support increased production.

The goal: to increase production levels to 40 times the current Japanese domestic production capacity by 2030.

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Ulvac Technologies Inc.

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