Solar Frontier to venture into BIPV — report

The Tokyo-based thin-film solar manufacturer hopes to start selling the new building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) products by the second half of 2019, CEO Atsuhiko Hirano told Bloomberg this week. Hirano said the company will use more aluminum in its new BIPV product offerings, instead of glass to reduce weight. 

Solar Frontier is the latest Japanese solar supplier to follow the lead of Tesla into the growing BIPV market segment, along with Kyocera and Sharp, the latter of which started selling semi-transparent solar panels for use as windows in late 2012.

In August, Tesla told its shareholders it had started installing its Solar Roof tiles on a pilot basis. It said at the time it expected to launch mass production of the product at its solar “Gigafactory” in Buffalo, New York, by the end of this year.

In November, Solar Frontier revealed it had halted operations at its 150 MW Tohoku factory in northeastern Japan, with additional plans to stop production at its 50 MW facility in Miyazaki prefecture by the end of this month. The production halts are part of plans to consolidate production at its flagship 900 MW Kunitomi factory, which is also located in Miyazaki.

Although Solar Frontier is now streamlining its production footprint, it recently started producing its SmaCIS solar panels, which are specifically designed for residential PV applications in Japan. It also plans to start selling its new 180 W and 185 W SFK Series thin-film solar cells from the start of 2018.

In addition, Solar Frontier’s board recently approved a plan to shift part of its business to RS Renewables, a company that will be established via an incorporation-type company split.

The new entity will be responsible for overseas sales of PV modules and PV project development, according to a statement by its parent, oil refiner Showa Shell Sekiyu. The incorporation-type split will be implemented in the first week of January.