A boom across all segments

Markets & Trends, 01 / 2013 | By:  Izumi Kaizuka, RTS Corporation

Japan: While there are regular announcements of new Japanese “mega solar” projects across the country, the latest figures of installed capacity and FIT registrations show that strong growth is also occurring in the residential market. Izumi Kaizuka, from RTS Corporation, takes a look at the data behind Japan’s solar boom.

While the local manufacturers chose to highlight their offerings tailored to the residential market at PV Japan 2012, there was also a strong presence of foreign manufacturers.

In November 2012 the Japanese Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA) announced the shipping statistics on PV modules in the third quarter of 2012. From July to September 2012, the shipping amount of PV cells/modules was 780 MW, showing a rise of 110.5% from the same period last year. This figure is the highest for a quarterly shipping volume since JPEA started to collect the figures. The growth is mostly due to the increase in domestic shipments of 627 MW, which increased by 180.3% from the same period the previous year.

PV module exports decreased to 153 MW, a drop of 42.7% reflecting an extraordinary appreciation of the yen. What is notable is that the ratio of imported volumes (202.7 MW) among domestic shipments reached more than 30% for the first time. While the imported volume includes Japanese manufacturers’ PV modules made in overseas factories in USA, China and Europe and OEM products for Japanese PV companies, the presence of non-Japanese PV manufacturers has been increasing. The graphic displayed below shows the sharp uptick in shipping volumes in and to Japan.

Activity from abroad

The presence of foreign manufacturers was also visible in the exhibition, PV Japan 2012. The event was co-organized by JPEA and SEMI Japan and was held from December 5 to 7 in Makuhari Messe. More than 42,500 visitors visited the show and 196 companies and organizations participated in the exhibition.As well as the Japanese PV module manufacturers including Sharp, Kyocera, Panasonic, Mitsubishi Electric, Kaneka, Solar Frontier, Honda Soltec, overseas companies also had a strong presence: Suntech Power, Canadian Solar and Hanwha Q-Cells had relatively larger booths and presented their products to potential business partners.

Suntech Power Japan is now increasing its market share in non-residential applications. It is reported that Suntech will have 15 to 20% share in PV power plant projects in this fiscal year (April 2012 to March 2013). Canadian Solar Japan also seems to be increasing its share in Japan. It claims that its share in the FY 2012 will be quadrupled from the previous fiscal year and reach 100 MW. Both companies have established their own supply chains with Japanese major distributors in the residential PV market and are now working to cultivate non-residential markets.

Hanwha Q.Cells Japan is employing a different approach. For entering into the residential PV market, the former Q.Cells Japan invited installers to join the “Q.Cells Meisters Club” and created direct partnerships with local installers. The “Q.Cells Meisters Club” now boasts more than 100 installers all over Japan.

From Germany, SolarWorld had a booth for the first time in Japan. On the occasion of PV Japan 2012, the German PV module manufacturer announced the opening of its new sales office in Japan.

From the U.S., SunPower Corporation also had a booth for the first time. The company has been working with Toshiba Corporation since 2010 to provide their high efficiency modules to the residential PV market. SunPower has already delivered 70 MW of their panels and announced it will ship another 100 MW to Toshiba in an expansion of the partnership. For the non-residential segment, SunPower Japan K.K. also started to enhance their sales activities. In the technical seminar on “Solar Power Generation Business,” SunPower emphasized that its high-efficiency modules and trackers are suitable for PV power plants in circumstances where space is constrained.

Residential growth

While most of the newcomers were presenting their products for non-residential applications, Japanese PV manufacturers emphasized their products for residential rooftops. Crystalline silicon PV module manufacturers exhibited different sizes of PV modules that would be a good fit for Japanese roofs. Panasonic presented its smaller “HIT half” modules, which employ 36 solar cells and it emphasized that the combination of “HIT” full-size modules and “HIT half” modules could allow more capacity to be added to a roof. Mitsubishi Electric exhibited trapezoidal-shaped single crystalline modules for rooftops. The demand for residential PV systems has been growing after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. JPEA statistics for Q3 2012 confirm this trend, with residential systems exhibiting strong growth. The 140% increase from Q3 2011, accounted for 71% of total growth of domestic shipments.

Residential subsidies

Households installing PV systems can receive a subsidy from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and sell their surplus PV power at 42 yen/kWh (US$0.50/kWh) to utilities for 10 years under the FIT program. Additionally, there is a subsidy for residential PV systems with a capacity of less than 10 kW. The eligible residential PV systems must be listed by the Japanese Photovoltaic Expansion Center (J-PEC) an organization under JPEA that was established to manage the national subsidy programs for residential PV systems. In addition to the national government subsidy and FIT, more than 800 local governments, including the prefectures, cities and towns, provide their own subsidies for residential PV systems. As such, residential systems are economically very attractive, particularly given increasing electricity charges. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), raised the electricity tariff for consumers by 8.46%, from September 2012.

Other utilities have announced plans to raise the charges due to the increase of imported fuels for generation. Against this background, prefabricated house manufacturers and PV manufacturers have promoted the development of smart houses. Smart houses are equipped with a PV system, a heat pump, storage batteries and a Home Energy Management System (HEMS). At PV Japan 2012, Kyocera, Panasonic and other companies promoted these smart house solutions.

Mega solar

After the government enacted the revamped FIT program in July, large-scale PV power plants have been attracting public attention, but the statistics of approved projects under the program also showed the robust demand of the residential PV market. The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) of METI made an announcement that the capacity of approved PV power generation systems under the FIT program reached 2,212 MW as of the end of October 2012, four months after the FIT program began. As shown in the graphic to the left, approved capacity for MW-scale PV power plants (1 MW or more) reached 1,008 MW. A total of 618 MW of PV systems with a capacity of 10 kW to 1 MW were approved. As for residential PV systems, a total of 133,554 systems were approved accounting for 586 MW.


While the local manufacturers chose to highlight their offerings tailored to the residential market at PV Japan 2012, there was also a strong presence of foreign manufacturers.