PV Expo Japan: Solar Spring to bloom

In post-Fukushima Japan, energy security is at a premium and an increased role for photovoltaics on the back of this, is the general expectation amongst attendees and exhibitors at day one of the expo in Tokyo. The effects of energy austerity measures still gripping the country are being felt however, as reduced heating of the trade-show halls meant temperatures were kept relatively low.

Getting a feel for the general mood, aside from the temperature, pv magazine spoke to a swag of company representatives. Christian Langen, the Executive Vice President for Sales und Marketing at SMA was bullish in his prediction that between 2.5 gigawatt (GW) and 3 GW of installed photovoltaic capacity can be expected in Japan in 2012. This is more than double that achieved in 2011. Sharp’s Koji Maekawa was less bold but still predicted between 1.4 GW and 1.5 GW of capacity to be connected to the grid this year.

A driver of installation levels and rates will be the final FIT rate for larger installations, that will be announced on July 1. This rate, along with the duration of FIT payments, is to be determined by a five-member committee that will then advise the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). These FITs will apply to any installation larger than ten kW.

There has been considerable debate in Japanese politics over the composition of this committee, with some pro-nuclear interest groups being accused of attempting to stack it with members dubious of the merits of a FIT. However, others are more hopeful that a FIT between JPY35 and JPY44 (US$0.43 and US$0.55) will eventuate. The rates for smaller installations have already been determined.

Andrew DeWit, from Tokyo’s Rikkyo University, told pv magazine that it appears that things look good for a FIT for larger installations. "Who was to be a member of the FIT committee, was a hard-fought deal and it seemed at the end of last year that the ‘nuclear village’ will win out," said DeWit, "but that has subsequently been changed." DeWit reported that a respected academic of environmental and energy policy has been instated to the committee.

Photovoltaic system prices in Japan remain higher than in countries with more established photovoltaic economies, like Germany. On the PV Expo Japan trade-show floor, pv magazine was told that average costs of between €4000 and €5000 (US$5350 and US$6700) are to be expected.

While many companies are waiting until July 1 before releasing their full strategy for the Japanese market, foreign EPC companies and integrators are already getting active in preparation. Both SunEdison and SunPower exhibited for the first time at this year’s PV Expo Japan.

Energy security has also emerged as a major theme in Post-Fukushima Japan. At present only two of the country’s nuclear reactors are in operation, following testing after last year’s disaster and radiation leaks. Some on the trade show floor said that a major role for photovoltaics on the back of this, will be a major trend for 2012. At present, as it is winter, demand for electricity is not at a peak levels however some think that as summer approaches, large-scale photovoltaic arrays will spring up as the temperature begins to rise.

"Last Fall it seemed that the ‘nuclear village’ will get a couple of its reactors re-started, but that’s not happening," concluded DeWit. "This country will go through this summer probably without any nuclear capacity, a totally unthinkable scenario!"