Solar Frontier makes progress on three Japanese projects

15. June 2011 | Applications & Installations, Global PV markets, Markets & Trends, Top News | By:  Jonathan Gifford

Japanese solar subsidiary of Dutch Oil giant Shell is supplying the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) on one of Japan’s first major solar plant installations, while putting their recycling systems in place and installing solar systems to keep petrol pumps running in times of disaster.

A Solar Frontier executive posing with an efficiency rating of one of their solar cells.

Three projects move forward for Solar Frontier in the fast evolving Japanese photovoltaic market. Image: Solar Frontier.

Japan has long been supplying solar modules for a range of projects, but the market has been largely focused on the rooftop residential market in years past. Japan-based Energy Policy Researcher Nandakumar Janardhanan told pv magazine that there has long been a focus on domestic photovoltaic installations rather than larger scale solar plants. "In 2009, residential was 90 percent of the total photovoltaic market [in Japan]. Which is the highest market share for residential installations world-wide."

10 megawatt (MW) plant in Japan

However, as the government and to an extent wider society, turns to an increased role for solar, larger scale installations are being looked at as a source to supply the 20 percent renewable target by the year 2020, announced by Prime Minister Naoto Kan at the G8 meetings last month. Japanese manufacturers have been seeing this trend first hand and Solar Frontier has told pv magazine about a 10 megawatt (MW) project in the central Yamanashi Prefecture of Japan, which the manufacturer claims will be the first of its kind.

Also of significance is that Solar Frontier is partnering with Tepco on the project, as the troubled electricity generator attempts to resurrect its public image in the face of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Solar Frontier announced in September of 2010 that it would be supplying the modules for the project, provisionally named the Komekurayama Solar Power Plant and has now confirmed that its production has been ramped up to supply the installation.

The company also confirms that it aims to supply modules with an average efficiency of over 12 percent for the Yamanashi Prefecture plant. Brooks Herring (pictured) told pv magazine that, "our production line is ramping up very well right now to hit those efficiencies." The plant is expected to be completed in quarter three or four of 2011, ahead of the schedule previously announced.

Cell recycling measures

Last September, Solar Frontier made public plans to invest further in photovoltaic recycling methods and technology in partnership with Kitakyushu City, and the company can report that practices are now being put into place.

It has now told pv magazine that the in-house recycling process is operating well, processing the cells and modules produced that don’t meet efficiency standards. Solar Frontier hopes to be able to deploy these recycling methods on a larger scale in the future and while it won’t reveal a timeframe, it says the rate of progress has been fast.

"The fact that we talked about that [installing a recycling process within the new factory] in Septermber 2010 when our plant was just beginning construction and between then we’ve put something in place that’s working, means we’re making significant progress already and we expect to keep that pace up," explained Herring.

Independent power for petrol pumps

In another Japanese project, Solar Frontier has also been working with parent company Showa Shell Sekiyu to install one MW of solar cells across its 200 service stations in the Kanto and Tohoko regions. Not only will these installations reduce electricity consumption at the stations by an estimated 13 percent, but they will allow the pumps to remain in use in the event of a natural disaster.

Each system is five kilowatts in size and in the Tohoko region, which was badly affected by the earthquake in March of this year; Solar Frontier’s Herring said that independent electricity is a topic that is gaining traction. "Most people don’t even think about gasoline until it’s not available. So one of the things that our solar panels on service stations will allow us to do in the event of a power outage, would allow us to operate even to a limited scale all of our service stations that have these solar panels on them."

The project is planned to expand to other regions in Japan.


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