Mitsubishi Testing the U.S. Solar Waters

There’s a new player on the U.S. solar industry block. Well, part of the block at least. Global electronics heavy-weight Mitsubishi Electric announced they will test out the U.S. solar waters for the first time by offering two types of solar modules to the California and southwestern U.S. markets.

Initially the 120 and 165 W modules will be offered through a network of dealers and distributors in the Southwest which are still being arranged by Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics USA. “Japan felt the timing was right,” said Vern Kowitz, manager for Mitsubishi Electric’s U.S. photovoltaic division, referring to the company’s leadership in Japan. “We’re testing the interest, we don’t want to jump in with both feet first.” Mitsubishi isn’t necessarily a recognized name in the U.S. commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) market, but it’s hardly a new foray for the Japanese company which began building solar-powered satellites in the 1970s. Since then the company has established itself as a major global PV manufacturer selling product to the Japanese and European markets and now to the U.S. market. The company recently increased their centralized global solar PV production in Nakatsugawa, Japan to 130 MW annually. Despite those large production numbers, this is the company’s first product push into the highly competitive and regionally-oriented U.S. solar market — and the entire U.S. market might not be far off. “The U.S. would be the next approach, whether whole or certain states. Those are options right now,” Kowitz said. The regional California market is a particularly good place to start, according to Kowitz, since the state’s incentives and rebates have created and sustained a vibrant solar market. “Many people are motivated by PV’s positive impact on the environment and society,” Kowitz said. “And many states, even the federal government, offer incentives for installing PV systems in homes and businesses, which will generate even more interest.” In addition to the U.S. market, Mitsubishi’s entry comes at a time of increasing solar PV demands throughout the world, fueled primarily by strong demand in Europe from countries like Germany, which have robust incentives for solar. Demand is not as strong in the U.S. where only some states, like California, have taken a bullish stance on renewables while the federal government has done considerably less. “They’re (the federal government) not doing enough compared to Europe,” Kowitz said. “If the demand was greater in the U.S. most PV would come into the U.S.” Kowitz said it has a lot to do with consumer knowledge. He questioned how many American consumers know what’s going on in Germany and how their incentives are drawing worldwide PV demand to the country, leading to module shortfalls in the U.S. “How much can the U.S. consumer get the government to do something about it?” Kowitz said. “And why is the German government doing what they’re doing — was it consumer-driven or government driven? And whatever the answer, why can’t it be in the U.S.?” While Kowitz feels Washington could do more to promote solar energy, he acknowledged that the solution will ultimately be a package deal between the manufacturers, the consumers and the government. “It should be the horse leading the cart, not the other way around,” Kowitz said, referring to strong state-based support contrasted with meager federal support. In the meantime, in their own little corner of the U.S. block, Mitsubishi is gearing up inventory in time for the spring installation season.

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