Companies Eye Factory Rooftops for Solar Expansion in Japan

Panasonic Corp. is aiming to sell more solar panels specifically designed for the rooftops of factories and warehouses, a market it sees ripe with potential as Japan introduces rules that threaten to stymie the development of larger solar farms built on open land.

Panasonic will start selling panels in June that are able to be installed more efficiently on corrugated factory roofing, Kazuhiro Yoshida, who heads the Osaka-based company’s solar division, said in an interview yesterday. The newer products are designed to more than double generation capacity by fitting more panels on a single rooftop, Yoshida said.

The Japanese electronics maker had been focusing on residential and small-size rooftops in Japan with its HIT-brand solar cells. The company is now adding a segment ranging from 50 kilowatts to 500 kilowatts in capacity, Yoshida said.

“Space is no longer left for mega-solar projects and you may encounter grid connection problems,” he said, referring to utility-scale solar projects typically of 1 megawatt or larger. “We expect middle-sized projects will expand rather than mega- solars,” he said. One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.

A change announced earlier this year by Japan’s trade ministry may curb the expansion of utility-scale projects, Yoshida said. After finding hundreds of larger projects had been delayed, the ministry set a 6-month deadline for developers to secure land and equipment after getting approval, a requirement that is tougher for larger projects.

Solar Market

Japan’s solar market is expanding after the country began an incentive program for clean energy in July 2012. Japan will add 9,300 megawatts to 11,800 megawatts of capacity this year to become the second-largest solar market, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance in February.

Nonetheless, some Japanese panel makers are forecasting tougher times ahead as panel prices decline. Sharp Corp. is projecting a 5 billion yen ($49 million) loss at its solar unit for the year ending March 31, compared with a 32.4 billion yen profit a year earlier.

Kyocera Corp. this fiscal year forecasts a 9.6 percent profit drop at the business unit that includessolar products.

Panasonic said on April 28 that profit at its Eco Solutions unit is projected to fall due partly to declining panel prices in the 12 months ending March 31.

“Despite the booming Japanese market, competition among module suppliers is increasing, with Chinese suppliers offering the same product at a lower price,” said Takehiro Kawahara, an analyst with BNEF in Tokyo. “Module prices in Japan have historically been well above the global level, an unsustainable situation for a commodity product, and one which is being corrected,” he said by e-mail.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Lead image: Factory rooftop via Shutterstock

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