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Asia Report: Japan's Solar Market Shifts Into Overdrive

What's the hottest solar end-market region on the planet? Japan is making a strong case for top billing in 2013, according to recent analysis.

Not content with being the second-hottest solar market this year, Japan appears poised to actually take the top spot after a spectacular first quarter, according to new calculations from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. BNEF's new calculations for solar installations, which now take into account a surge in first-quarter installations in Japan, span a big range: 6.9-9.4 GW, raising the low end of BNEF's previous estimate of 6.1 GW. That likely will nudge Japan ahead of China, and well ahead of other top regions including the U.S., Germany, and Italy (the latter two falling off precipitously this year).

Japan was already poised for partial top billing in 2013, after IHS analysts (née IMS Research) suggested that even if installations don't catch up to China as measured in gigawatts, it'll likely be tops in terms of revenue thanks to the comparably high prices for PV systems. IHS sees Japan's share of global PV system revenue rising to 24 percent in 2013, compared with 14 percent in 2012 and 9 percent in 2011.

IN THE NEWS

Europe's Solar Carrot/Stick Offer to China: The European Commission has formally ruled to impose antidumping duties on Chinese solar panels, cells, and wafers. Here's the catch: for two months, until August 6, the duties will be well below the original proposal (averaging 11.8 percent vs. 47.6 percent), and then the higher figure will be applied until December, at which point the EC will decide on a final five-year figure. With this window established, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht says Europe is willing to negotiate within broader trade discussions, but "the ball is now in China's court." China, though, won't be so easily cowed; it's already responded by with its an investigation into European wine imports.

Canadian Solar Gets a Loan: If China wants to show that it's not unfairly supporting its solar sector and turning solar panel makers into de-facto state-owned enterprises, handing out more loans might not help its case. But that's what it's doing with a CNY 270 million (USD $44 million) loan to Canadian Solar, writes Doug Young. In other news from China's solar salvage sector, LDK reportedly has declined to spin off its polysilicon unit as was required under terms of a $240 million investment received from Chinese lenders in 2011, which could trigger a repayment clause tacking on a quarter of the loan's value. (Dozens of suppliers are owed CNY 600 million, about $97.8 million, according to one local report.) And more than 500 local creditors are lining up to submit claims against Wuxi Suntech amounting to CNY 15.6 billion (roughly US $2.5 billion); most of those claims still have to be reviewed and verified by a court-appointed debt administrator.

China Reviewing ASMC-Sinovel Patent Case: Nearly two years after American Superconductor accused former Chinese customer Sinovel of illegally taking and using its power and control systems, China's Supreme People's Court is taking a look at two of the civil actions. (ASMC also has commercial arbitration and trade secret cases against Sinovel.) These cases represent "the perfect litmus test" for President Xi Jinping to back up statements about protecting the rights of foreign enterprises, whether as "rhetoric or reality," stated ASMC VP/general counsel John Powell. "They will help to determine whether China will protect the intellectual property rights of all companies, both foreign and domestic."

ReneSola Supplying Modules to Japan's Vitec: ReneSola has agreed to supply 10 MW of its Virtus II solar modules to Vitec, which will use them in various commercial- and utility-scale projects (600kW-2.4-MW) across Japan. Also with a 10-MW solar supply deal is Yingli Green Energy, which is shipping 41,000 of its multicrystalline solar modules to Malaysia's Amcorp Power for the largest single-site PV power plant in Malaysia, a 34-acre project in Gemas, Negri Sembilan. And yet another 10-MW project, this one in Thailand, is now completed: the final 10.3-MW stage of a 84-MW (dc) solar plant in Lop Buri Province for Natural Energy Development (NED), with a total of 640,000 thin-film modules supplied by Sharp.

India's Tata Power Gets UN Recognition for Wind Project: Tata Power says it has roughly 50 MW of solar energy output and almost 800 MW from its wind energy projects, with a total in its renewables profile at 873 MW (including hydro). The company plans to add 30-50 MW of solar power and 150-200 MW of wind energy per year in India. Three of its renewable energy projects are registered under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change' Clean Development Mechanism program, most recently a 50-MW wind project in Karnataka.

Ocean Thermal Energy in China: A group from Harbin Engineering University plans to deploy a 200-kW horizontal-axis turbine in the East China Sea, part of a broader national effort to use more marine renewable energy for remote islands — namely "ocean thermal energy conversion," which runs on the temperature differences between deep water and the surface. The first 100-kW wave energy unit of a 500-kW demo project on Dawanshan Island was deployed in mid-April 17; a 120-kW wave buoy off Hailv Island and a 10-kW wave device near Wanshan Island have been operating for roughly half a year.

Distributed Solar for Agriculture in Japan: A groundbreaking ceremony was held this week at a rice warehouse in Hanamaki, Iwate, Japan, the first project undertaken by a joint venture formed eight months ago between the National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations (JA ZEN-NOH) and Mitsubishi to implement solar energy systems on farm rooftops in Japan. Electricity from the system (799 kW generation capacity) on the ZEN-NOH's rice warehouses will be sold to Tohoku Electric Power Company starting in September. The JV, JAMC Solar, aims to get solar energy systems on livestock barns and warehouses, with some 80 sites and roughly 30 MW of capacity eligible for the feed-in tariff since 2012; expanding potential locations to other unused non-farm lands could expand that reach to 90-MW through the rest of this year.

Habitat for Humanity's Tsunami Solar Efforts: More than two years after the March 2011 earthquake/tsunami disaster, the first Habitat for Humanity Japan's "Solar Home Recovery Project" has been installed on the roof of a house in Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture. The first phase of the pilot project will support 13 families in Ofunato to add rooftop solar panels, with a second phase installing solar on community centers; in both cases excess electricity would be sold back to the regional utility provider for extra income.

First WindMade Label in Japan: Ikeuchi Towel, a 60-year maker of eco-friendly towels, bathrobes, and related products in Shikoku province, is the first Japanese company to earn the WindMade label, a push begun in 2011 to recognize companies that source at least 25 percent of their electricity from wind energy (later expanded to other renewables). Ikeuchi, which has used renewable energy since 2002, actually sources 100 percent of its electricity consumption from wind power, specifically from the Noshiro Wind Farm in Japan's northern Akita Prefecture.

Vietnam Wind Farm Comes Online: A wind farm in Bac Lieu in the Mekong Delta has been connected to the national electricity grid, the nation's second such project to come online, following one in the central Binh Thuan province a year ago. The first phase of 10 turbines totaling 16-MW was completed after three years and $95 million investment. The finished project, with 62 GE turbines and total output of 99.2 MW, is slated to be operational by June 2014.

Gamesa Lands 230-MW Deal in India: Gamesa has signed two agreements to supply a combined 230 MW of wind energy projects in India. One is for China Light and Power India's 130-MW Jath wind farm in the Sangli district of the state of Maharashtra, with installations beginning in 3Q13 and commissioning a year later. The other involves supplying two 50-MW wind farms in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh for Greenko, with negotiations already underway to potentially double that.

Financing for Another Japanese Megasolar Project: Shinsei Bank has lined up project financing to raise about ¥10 billion toward ~40 MW of large-scale solar power plants in Ibaraki prefecture being developed by Japan Renewable Energy Co. Construction in Mito city and Shirosato town are expected to start this month and come online in January 2015, with power sold to Tokyo Electric.

Goldman Sachs Pouring $500M into Japan's Renewable Energy: Goldman Sachs plans to invest up to ¥50 billion (US $475 million) in various renewable energy projects in Japan over the next five years, spanning solar, wind, fuel cells, and biomass, according to reports. That doesn't include a proposal of up to ¥250 billion in loans and financing over the same period.

Early Aussie Wind Project Up for Sale: Australia's first commercial wind energy project to be accredited under the former GreenPower initiative is up for sale, likely paving the way for a coal operation. The Koorangang turbine is being offloaded by Ausgrid (formerly EnergyAustralia) along with solar farm assets in Sydney as its business has shifted to focus more on transmission and distribution. Local reports note that the Kooragang site uses much older and less-efficient technology, and was cast in doubt two years ago with competing plans for a future swing basin in the area.


A DEEPER LOOK

India's Solar Policy Experimentation Continues: Mercom Capital Group's Raj Prabhu is back with a lengthy update on India's national and state-level solar policy progress. Bottom line: "installations in 2013 will likely end up disappointing," he writes. The current environment from domestic content requirements to weighing PV vs. CSP "looks more like an experiment than a serious policy that will help solve the current power crisis in India."

Can Solar PV Replace Nuclear Power in Tokyo? A report out of the U. of Texas/Austin suggests that Tokyo could switch from nuclear energy to solar PV and not miss a beat in meeting electricity demand. Swapping in solar PV generation from roughly 300 sq. km of rooftops instead of nuclear for baseload power, paired with the same large amounts of pumped hydro storage, "could help to meet peak requirements while at the same time providing ~26.5 percent of the electricity Tokyo used to get from nuclear output, and do so 91% of the time," they say. The paper was published in Environmental Research Letters; here's the full PDF courtesy of the university.


ON THE HORIZON

India Releases Draft Offshore Wind Energy Policy: India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has drafted a national offshore wind energy policy. Preliminary assessments show the best prospects for Indian offshore wind are along the coastlines of Karnataka, Kerala, and Goa, with "reasonable potential" also along the coastline of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat to establish around 1 GW capacity each. Here's the full draft document from the MNRE.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

April 24-May 20, 2013 Asia Report: Tweaking India's Domestic Content Policy

April 10-April 23, 2013 Asia Report: Balancing China's Solar PV Market Volatility

Mar. 27-April 9, 2013 Asia Report: Solar in "Emerging" Asia

Mar. 21-26, 2013 Asia Report: Let the Suntech Fallout Begin

Mar. 13-20, 2013 Asia Report: Is Japan's Solar Market Overheating?

Mar. 7-12, 2013 Asia Report: Suntech Debt, Chinese Solar Saga Still Playing Out

Lead image: Torii gate of a shrine in Japan, via Shutterstock

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