Japanese PV market booms: over 1 GW-AC put online in April, 10-12 GW-AC predicted for 2014

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Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reports that Japan connected 1.003 GW-AC of solar PV to the grid during April 2014, based on data from the nation’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

“What is happening in Japan is boom,” says BNEF Solar Insight Manager Jenny Chase. She notes that the nation has approved over 65 GW of solar PV projects through its feed-in tariff, and says that more of these are getting built.

“Developers are figuring out the next step. Getting land permissions, getting financing, getting the utility agreements to connect to the grid. And the economics of these projects are really very good.”

While Japan lowered feed-in tariff rates at the beginning of its fiscal year on April 1st, 2014, feed-in tariff approval is often the first step in a project. As such, plants put online in April received the previous, higher feed-in tariff rates.

Over the full year 2014, BNEF expects Japan to install 10.3-11.9 GW-AC, only slightly less than it predicts from China, the world’s largest market. And while BNEF expects the nation’s current PV boom to be followed by a bust, it also predicts that utility-scale PV installations to drop off “sometime after 2016”.

More than half of the capacity put online in April at 587 MW-AC was installations in the 10 kw – 1 MW range, a segment dominated by commercial and institutional systems. BNEF estimates that only 85 MW-AC of residential PV was commissioned during the month, with utility-scale PV (over 1 MW) representing the remaining 331 MW-AC.

Raw METI data was inconclusive this month. The agency removed some residential projects from its statistics, resulting a negative residential PV figure from month to month. As such, BNEF’s estimates for the residential sector are based on previous months.

Regardless, solar analytics firm RTS Corp. says that system integrators are moving to the commercial sector. “Providers of residential systems are now focusing on small-scale commercial applications with the capacity 10kW to <50kW,” says RTS’ Izumi Kaizuka.

“The project owner can sell 100% of the energy and the sales is easier and profitable. In case of <10kW application, owners can only sell excess energy.”