Foreign-made cells and modules flood Japanese market

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Japan may be a tough market for foreign solar developers to crack but figures from the country’s solar industry show cells and modules made outside Japan are making huge gains since the onset of the world’s most generous FiT regime.

Since prime minister Shinzo Abe launched a JPY42/kWh (US$0.42/kWh) FiT payment in July 2012, the Japanese solar market has become one of the biggest global draws, a fact reflected in figures released by the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA) that show the amount of cells and modules shipped in Japan has trebled year on year.

After the introduction of the new FiT payment, at the start of the first quarter of the 2012-13 financial year, total shipments trebled from 613.5 MW to 1.7 GW for the first three months of the current financial year – despite the FiT payment being reduced to JPY37.8/kWh on April 1.

Cell and module shipments quadrupled

The comparison shows shipments to Japan quadrupled from 445 MW to 1.65 GW at the expense of cell and module exports to the rest of the world, which shrank from 168 MW in April-to-July 2012 to 35.2 MW in the current fiscal first quarter.

If the fact domestic-made cells and modules rose 313 MW to 521 MW is being trumpeted as good news for Japanese solar manufacturers, the figures for foreign-made cells and modules make for more sobering reading.

Non-Japanese-manufactured cells and modules shipped to Japan, which amounted to 132 MW in Q1 2012, have exploded to 1.13 GW in the current first quarter.

The figures illustrate that while foreign downstream companies may be struggling to reap the direct benefits of the country’s bumper FiT payments, there is no shortage of global upstream companies making hay out of a central plank of the prime minister’s ‘Abenomics’ program.