Japan rebalances its solar market

According to the latest analysis by Japanese analysts RTS Corporation, prime minister Shinzo Abe’s generous FIT program has not only driven a boom in Japanese solar but also rebalanced the market away from its previous heavy dependence on residential installations.

Until the FIT regime was introduced as part of Abe’s ‘Abenomics’ program of economic reforms in July 2012, the Japanese solar market was dominated by the residential segment, which supplied 66.4% of demand – in the form of a 1.64 GW slice of the market.

The full-year 2013 figures released by the Japanese Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA), and included in the latest issue of RTS Corporation’s PV Highlights in Japan and Global PV Highlights report, indicate residential solar amounted to 2.26 GW by the end of last year.

The fact that larger figure accounted for just 30.1% of the overall market three months ago illustrates the explosion in Japanese solar after the FIT was introduced.

A more balanced solar market

The industrial and commercial and the utility segments of the Japanese market experienced even more dramatic expansions, with the former rising from 432 MW in July 2012 to 2.24 GW at the end of December and utility-scale solar rising from 324 MW to 2.34 GW in the same period, to marginally overtake residential as the biggest segment of a Japanese market in which industrial and commercial installations accounted for 29.8% of the cake.

With the total solar market mushrooming from 2.47 GW to 7.5 GW in the 18 months after the FIT program was introduced, total shipments increased from 3 GW to 7.67 GW with Japanese-made panels rising from 1.69 GW to 3.43 GW and imports increasing from 776 MW to 4.07 GW.

The small amount of panels exported – just 595 MW in July 2012 – fell to 171 MW by the end of the year as the country consumed most of its solar production.