Japan’s material makers making improvements to lower solar costs

With a wide price disparity between energy sources and uncertainty surrounding new legislation, Japanese companies are turning to technology and manufacturing improvements to help trim solar costs earlier in the supply chain, hoping to rebalance the equation on the other end.

January 25, 2012 – Japan’s solar energy costs are roughly three times higher than coal/gas-sourced energy sources. The nation will institute a FiT plan this year, but proposed renewable energy-friendly legislation is short on some key details. So, like other markets, Japan needs to find other ways to narrow that energy cost gap. And as elsewhere, companies are turning to technology and manufacturing improvements to help lower solar costs, since the earlier in the solar PV supply chain that costs can be trimmed, the more cumulative the end effect to narrow that energy price gap.

The Nikkei daily highlights three such domestic areas of focus:

  • Antireflective glass. Toray Industries is developing an antireflective glass coating film that helps solar cells capture more sunlight, increasing efficiency by 0.3 to 0.4 percentage points, which translates to 3-4 percent lower power costs. Subsidiary Toray Engineering already has a machine to automatically fix glass warping and coat the glass with the new film. Toray aims to sell both the film and tool to solar glass suppliers, targeting ¥5 billion in sales by 2015.
  • Backside cell wiring. Toppan Printing is working on material to place wiring on the backside of solar cells instead of the front, to increase the solar panel’s effective surface area by several percent (and thus boost overall system output). Prototypes have been sent to solar panel makers, with mass production anticipated “sometime during fiscal 2012.”
  • Sealants. Sekisui Chemical is said to be developing a material that incorporates properties of protective coating and sealant for solar cells, which would eliminate a manufacturing process step and thus lower costs. The company also hopes to start marketing the product sometime this year.
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