Solar

Sharp Solar: A New Way of Thinking

The innovation began with the mechanical pencil. It was followed by the world’s first solar powered radio. Today, Sharp, a company known more for its consumer electronics than its contributions to photovoltaic technology, is on the verge of attempting to make its mark in the emerging solar PV market in the United States.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, California – May 22, 2002 [SolarAccess.com] The innovation began with the mechanical pencil. It was followed by the world’s first solar powered radio. Today, Sharp, a company known more for its consumer electronics than its contributions to photovoltaic technology, is on the verge of attempting to make its mark in the emerging solar PV market in the United States. With a current PV manufacturing capacity at its Japanese factories of more than 100 MW, Sharp plans to expand production to 200 MW this year. “Sharp has made a big commitment to solar,” said Ron Kenedi, General Manager of Solar Systems Division Sharp Electronics Corporation, the North and South American subsidiary of Sharp Corporation based in Osaka, Japan. “We’ve held back in the United States, but now sense the opportunity.” The new Solar Systems Division (SSD), based in Huntington Beach, California, will make Sharp¹s solar cells, modules and systems available in North America, as well as Canada and Latin America. Sharp began researching solar cells in 1959 with mass production beginning in 1963. The company’s first installation – on a lighthouse in Nagasaki – went up in 1966 and its first satellite-based PV system launched in 1976. The Future of Solar PV Marketing Future growth for the PV industry, predicts Kenedi, lies in assembling components into systems that will appeal to “mainstream” customers and marketing those as complete systems. “A few things have to happen for the market to grow,” Kenedi said. “On the marketing side, someone like us has to come in with a product concept that appeals to the people on a mainstream level. The product must be priced well, easy to buy and easy to install.” Kenedi said solar PV packages today are confusing with components often coming from several different manufacturers. Within a year, Sharp will produce every part and piece of the system, each, made to work together. “There will be no phone calls from roof tops asking how to install the system,” Kenedi said. “That is our approach because we are a product manufacturer – it’s in our blood.” Kenedi called the market for photovoltaics in North and South America “viable and vibrant” and said estimates of 30 to 40 percent growth are consistent with Sharp’s outlook. Sharp operates three factories in Japan, an ingot factory, a cell factory and a module factory. Although plans currently call for importing product from those plants as they continue to increase capacity and production, a US-based manufacturing facility has “potential” in the future. “As the industry grows and matures, manufacturers will want to put plants closer to customers,” Kenedi said. For now, Sharp will focus its attention on running a “very efficient, low overhead” operation while utilizing the existing Sharp business infrastructure. As Kenedi continues to build his US team, he can engage existing customer call centers and warehouse space at very little cost, benefiting from economies of scale. You won’t find Sharp panels in retail outlets -the company will sell to OEMs, contractors and distributors as it tries to cut out its niche in the market. Expansion of that marketing approach may occur, however, as full-system products are released. The company is seeking to partner with large customers willing to make a commitment to invest in the solar PV industry. Sharp plans to try to service those customers with direct shipments from Japan in containers lots, while also serving smaller orders out of a warehouse in California. “Our goal is to have people order directly from Japan to service them better,” Kenedi said. “It’s time for that in this industry.” The Sharp name, Kenedi said, will work to attract the end use consumer. “We will influence the end use customer because they will take well with the Sharp name,” Kenedi said. “We won’t hesitate to use our name to attract customers.” Product Offerings Customers will have five models of modules to choose from: 80 W and 123 W, 12 volt, battery charging modules and 125 W, 160 W and 165 W, 24 volt modules. Sharp will also market 125mm and 155mm solar cells to OEMs with the 125mm cells offered in an assortment of premium colors including gold/brown, green and light blue. The colors reduce the efficiency of the modules slightly, according to Kenedi, but fit into the company’s plans to offer modules that work better with home design considerations. To that end, the company will be the first in the US to offer triangular shaped modules to better fit rooftops. Kenedi said that Sharp “has the end user in mind,” as it approaches the US photovoltaic market and said he feels he has a “great opportunity to set the standard in a new era” in the industry. He is charged with creating and executing a unique way to go to market with solar, creating a mainstream product that is as easy to purchase as carpeting or a home theater system. “I believe this is a new day and a new way,” Kenedi said. “I feel I’m very, very lucky.”