PV Expo Japan: Doors close but expectations high

While the final figures have not been released, attendance of slightly shy of 100,000 visitors is expected. This is down on expectations however represents a five to ten percent increase on 2012.

The PV Expo formed the largest component of the larger Smart Energy Week, which featured battery and smart meter manufactuers. In total there were 1950 exhibitors, 750 of which were from the photovoltaic industry. Hajime Suzuki, the Director of International Sales and Marketing Division at Reed Exhibitions, told pv magazine that capacity at the exhibition center has almost been reached and that the 2013 show is almost fully subscribed. Suzuki said that Reed are contemplating separating Smart Energy Week into its composite parts for this region. The exhibition venue in Tokyo is the largest of its kind in Japan.

Sentiment on the exhibition floor was high over the three days as photovoltaics enjoys a high profile and good will in a post Fukushima Japan, where energy supply and security is very much in the spotlight. As such, the photovoltaic market is expected to grow to around two gigawatts (GW) over 2012. Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was instrumental in pushing through revamped feed-in tariff legislation, attended the final day of the expo.

Foreign and Japanese module manufacturers are in hot competition over this expanding market and they took steps throughout the trade show to enhance their brand. Support for domestic producers and a focus on high quality products can make Japan a difficult country for foreign manufacturers.

Fast-growing Japanese thin film manufacturer Solar Frontier told pv magazine that the expansion of the Japanese market is critically important to the company’s strategy. In 2011, 30 percent of Solar Frontier’s production went to the domestic market and 70 percent to international markets. In 2012, the company predicts that the domestic share will double to 60 percent.

Competition for Japanese market share is also hotting up. Solar Frontier’s Brooks Herring set out the company’s aim to capture 25 to 30 percent market share in 2012, up from 12 percent in 2011. If the Japanese market does grow to the expected two GW, then that would mean 500 megawatts (MW) of modules, over half of Solar Frontier’s recently expanded production. In light of this, rumors that the company is planning to expand its production at a new site seem well founded.

Chinese module manufacturers are also looking to expand their presence in Japan. Of the foreign manufacturers Canadian Solar’s Yan Zhuang, reported to pv magazine that it is ranked second, in terms of market share, behind Suntech. The company is hoping to expand its market share from three percent to six or seven this year.

Hyundai are also looking to gradually expand into the market. James Kim, a Senior Vice President with the company, told pv magazine that it sold 10 MW of modules in Japan last year and it is hoped that will expand to 50 MW this year.

One challenge that foreign manufacturers that do not have a presence in the Japanese market is that modules will have to complete the tough and costly certification process. Because of this, foreign manufacturers that already have done so, like Suntech, are at a distinct advantage. The certification process can purportedly take years.