Utility scale projects boosting Japan's domestic solar sector

Japan’s domestic solar shipments have risen 14% year-on-year over the first quarter of the financial year, largely as a result of the country’s growing utility scale sector.

According to data compiled by the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association (JPEA), local solar shipments reached 1,882 MW in the three months up to June 30, representing a first quarter increase of 14% on last year, when shipments were 1,654 MW for the same period (In Japan, the first quarter of the year is calculated from the beginning of April).

JPEA revealed that 657 MW of solar modules shipped in Japan were for utility scale PV projects – up 45% on last year. Japan’s rooftop sector still managed to ship a healthy 493 MW, but that figure was 14% below last year’s Q1 shipments. Overall shipments for non-residential projects reached 1.38 GW, of which 657 MW was used for utility-scale projects of 500 kW or more (as mentioned above). The remainder was plowed into Japan’s commercial rooftop sector.

In the last fiscal year, from March 2013 to March 2014, Japan installed more than 7 GW of PV capacity.

JPEA’s data was compiled from 39 leading solar companies, including Japan’s Solar Frontier and Sharp Corp. The results were mildly surprising given that the general perceived lack of land space in the country led many industry experts to predict the rooftop sector to drive Japan’s solar industry.

Indeed, just last week U.S. thin film giant First Solar announced how it was positioning itself for a long-term strategy in the country, developing 250 MW of PV projects covering both the rooftop and utility-scale sector.

In 2012, the Japanese government introduced lucrative incentives to drive the country’s rooftop solar sector in the wake of 2011’s Fukushima nuclear disaster that prompted Japan’s leaders to turn their backs on nuclear power.

Meanwhile, Orix Corp. and Kyudenko Corp. have began a joint operation to develop an 8.2 MW solar power station at a former airport in southwest Japan.

Once complete, the PV plant will be Japan’s first to be built on a former airport site. Makaruzaki airport was closed in March 2013 following mounting debts having been Japan’s first designated commuter airport when it opened in 1991.