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Japan Solar Energy PV Industry Reaches 10 GW Milestone

Joshua Hill's picture
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  • Sep 15, 2013

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New research conducted by NPD Solarbuzz and featured on their blog this past week shows that Japanese solar photovoltaic “PV” installations have now passed 10 GW for cumulative PV capacity, only the fifth country to reach the mark. Of the previous four — Germany, Italy, China, and the US — the latter two only reached the milestone within the past few months, highlighting Japan’s achievement.

Japan Hits 10 GW Milestone

ota-city-solar-power-japanWriting on the Solarbuzz website, NPD Group Vice President Finlay Colville pointed to three landmark high-points along Japan’s solar PV leadership, highlighting not only their recent 10 GW milestone, but also that Japan was the first country to reach the 1 GW of cumulative solar PV back in 2004. This was helped along by;

  • The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) launched a subsidy program for residential PV systems as far back as 1994. Initially, the subsidy covered 50% of the cost of PV systems. The budget for FY 1994 was 2 billion Yen.
  • Until 2005, Japan had the largest installed PV capacity of any country in the world. This early leadership position was achieved through a well-managed set of programs, coupled with attractive market incentives.
  • The early growth of the Japanese PV market was a strong factor in establishing Japanese manufacturing as the first dominant force in the solar PV industry. Manufacturers that benefited from the first phase of government initiatives include several of the companies that are now leaders in the domestic PV industry revival: Sharp, Sanyo and Kyocera.

In the Face of Fukushima

Sadly, another factor that has to be considered in Japan’s recent increase in solar PV installation must be the fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear ‘disaster’ which followed the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011. Corollary evidence might suggest that the launch of the feed-in tariff program in July 2012 which was focused towards fostering the development and installation of renewable energy throughout the country was a direct response to the subsequent shut down of all of Japan’s nuclear reactors in the wake of the disaster. Regardless of the why, however, this feed-in tariff has been instrumental in accelerating the deployment of large-scale renewable technologies, helping the country’s PV market grow rapidly over the past 12 months.

2013 Sees Regular Growth

There is a litany of Japanese solar stories covered here on CleanTechnica to back up these numbers, not the least of which was a report published in March of this year that predicted the number of Japanese solar installations would overtake the US and Germany this year.

As mentioned earlier, IMS Research — a part of IHS – predicted earlier this year that “[the] Japanese [PV] market is set to grow by 120 percent in 2013 and install more than 5 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity … with installations expected to exceed 1 GW in the first quarter alone.” At the end of May, IHS followed up their earlier report, revealing that not only had Japan reached the 1 GW mark for installations in the first quarter, but that they had installed 1.5 GW, “a stunning 270 percent in the first quarter of 2013″, and were on track to become the “world’s largest solar revenue market in 2013″. While the Japanese Agency for Natural Resources and Energy reported that Japan had added 1,240 MW  of solar installations in April and May.

Again borrowing from Colville’s piece on the Solarbuzz website, Japan’s PV industry has benefited greatly from renewed interest in the sector, resulting in;

  • Cumulative solar PV installed in Japan broke through the 10 GW barrier during August 2013 and exceeded 10.5 GW at the end of August.
  • Until the end of 2012, the Japanese PV market had been heavily weighted towards the rooftop segment, with 97% of PV capacity.
  • During the first eight months of 2013, the ground-mount segment has accounted for 27% of new solar PV capacity installed.
  • Over the first three quarters of calendar year 2013, Japan is forecast to install more PV capacity than during the entire three-year period spanning 2010 to 2012.
  • At the end of August 2013, rooftop solar PV installations remain the dominant type of PV installations by project number and by MW volume, with 89% of market share by capacity. The remaining 11% is spread across the ground-mount and off-grid segments.
Cumulative solar PV installed in Japan at the end of August 2013 (shown as 2013 YTD) Image Credit: NPD Solarbuzz Asia Pacific PV Market Quarterly

Cumulative solar PV installed in Japan at the end of August 2013 (shown as 2013 YTD) Image Credit: NPD Solarbuzz Asia Pacific PV Market Quarterly

Writing more recently, Giles Parkinson from RenewEconomy recently noted that “China, Japan, and the US will compete for domination in the coming years,” while noting that fresh faces are going to be growing up over that same period, with “strong markets in the rest of Asia, Africa and South America … also emerging.”

Looking back over the past few months of the year, we can see just how efficiently the Japanese solar PV industry has been working. Earlier this month it was revealed that Japan was one of only two countries to be home to a competing solar module manufacturer, outside of China (which is dominating the sector). In May it was revealed that by February of this year, Japan had 12.2 GW of new solar installations in the pipeline, including a 400 MW solar power park approved for installation on a remote Japanese island located off the southern coast. Again in May, the Deutsche Bank noted that the Japanese market could reach an annual “run rate” of 7 to 9 GW.

Japanese Solar in the Future

Looking forward, new figures from the Mercom Capital Group reiterate their earlier estimations of a global installation forecast for solar PV of approximately 38 GW by the end of the year, including 8.5 GW installed in China, 7 in Japan, and another 4.5 in the US.

“After years of overcapacity, bankruptcies and record low prices we are now seeing price stabilization, higher capacity utilization rates and a move towards supply-demand equilibrium,” explained Mercom Capital Co-Founder and CEO Raj Prabhu in a blog post. “Market conditions for solar look much better than they did just three months ago and we are reiterating our global installation forecast of ~38 GW for 2013. One of the big overhangs, the China-EU trade case, has been settled, which could have otherwise set off an all-out trade war. This brings some sorely needed certainty to the market.”

A Challenging Future

Both NPD Solarbuzz and Mercom are predicting challenges ahead for Japan, however, with module supply shortages, grid connection issues, and overcapacity concerns. Mercom note that there are reports suggesting “some of the PV project [applications] are getting rejected citing overcpacity and grid stability issues,” adding that the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry have admitted that “some of the facilities approved have not begun construction and they are conducting a survey to find reasons behind the delays including whether there is a shortage of materials.”

All in all, Japan’s solar industry is heading in a good direction, and minus a few bumps along the way, it will be no real surprise to see Japan at the top of solar PV tables for years to come.

Japan Solar PV Industry Reaches 10 GW Milestone was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 other subscribers: RSS | Facebook | Twitter.

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Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 16, 2013

The Japanese solar boom is off to a very disappointing start.

The heavy emphasis on the residential sector is a very bad sign.  As described by the Solar Electric Industries Association, this doubles the cost of solar power compared to utility scale.  To make matters worse, it makes it really hard to add energy storage (note that Japan has pioneered the sodium-sulphur liquid metal battery; it has very long life, but the high temperature operation makes it a bad choice for home use).  This means the continued growth in PV installations will destabilize the grid, result in fossil fuel lock-in (with the solar penetration never exceeding a limit of 20%), and bankrupt their utilities.  Not good.

Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Sep 18, 2013

Does Japan have an alternative? It doesn’t have a Mojave Desert, or a lot of other unused flat land, to put them in. 

Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Sep 19, 2013

So what billions are you talking about? especially compared to fossil and nuclear?  Emerging technologies are always expensive at first, cheaper later on. 50 years ago you couldn;t even find a terabyte storage let alone a teraflop.The computer you are probably working on would have cost about a hundred million dollars 50 years ago and still be way slow and with minimal amount of storage. The real active efforts for PV solar are only a few decades old.

The first solar cell was a selenium cell with 1% efficiency. In 1876. The first silicon based cell was patented by Bell Labs in 1954. In 1955 another company produced a cell that was 2 percent efficient, priced at $25 per cell, at 14 milliwatts each   In the 60’s you could buy a solar cell from Edmund Catalogue that would move a galvanometer and not much else.  As I recall, large scale manufacturing did not occur until 1979 when ARCO built out a facility in Southern California capable of producing 1MW worth of cells/year. They also built out the first 1MW solar PV plant around that time. Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) dedicated a 1.0 MW photovoltaic power plant to operate near the Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant south of Sacramento not long after. That was later expanded to two megawatts. The nuclear plant was beset by numerous technical issues and had to close.

     Not much has been put into solar on the government side until the mid 1990’s, when in California there was energy deregulation and solar could, with incentives, get connected to the grid via the California Energy Commission Renewable Energy Program. That was only 17 years ago. In 1997 Clinton launched the not so successful million rooftops program. Only 70,000+ PV systems were installed by the end of his presidency. More recently the 2007 California Solar Initiative was given a total budget of $2.167 billion between 2007 and 2016 with the  goal to install approximately 1,940 MW of new solar generation capacity. Funny thing so, for a miserable failure the CSI has already exceeded expectations. 1GW of output was achieved in August 2012, and routinely gets above 2.4 GW 13 months later.  Last year solar accounted for 0.9%(2,609GWh) of the 300,000GWh/yr demand in California. Today solar accounts for nearly 3% of demand (20GWH out of 683GWH yesterday as a recent example –annulized it would be over 7,000GWh/yr – You don’t need a desert to benefit from solar. Chalk that up to an old wives tale. Nuclear takes care of 9% California demand as a comparison or about 27,000 GWh/yr. If California solar output was to just double annually, less than current rate,  in 3 years it would surpass the nuclear contribution. 

As far as toxics, perhaps you are not aware of the heavy metal soup that comes out of a coal stack, including uranium and mercury. For nuclear we don’t just have the waste but the mine tailings that cannot be put back into the ground because of processing. We trade one poison for another, yes. Personally I think it is worth it.

Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Sep 21, 2013

Couple of quick points more discussion later.

Broken solar arrays is a lot easier to clean up than the Fukushima complex. Note also the recent Colorado floods which included flooding of thousands of fracking operations, breaking tanks of toxic fluids and releasing tons of oil and chemicals into the Colorado environment and downstream.

If you read my posts I take the Stewart Brand approach to nuclear. The problem with nuclear is that its proponents often fail to recognize the shortcomings.  Management of facilites for instance is problematic. Both Rancho Seco and San Onofre have been closed due to sheer incompetence. Other reactor complexes have had similar issues. SMR’s are better in that with standardization you aren’t outsourcing to update your reactor, you instead go to the original vendor. Management has minimal input on the engineering and costs. With perhaps 2% of the CO2 emissions of a coal plant nuclear is obvioulsy a better choice. Of course the fossil fuel industry with 25 trillion in the ground might object if it stays in the ground. No sympathy from me but that is why Exxon and other outfits spend hundreds of millions on climate change denial efforts and fight CAFE standards.

If build out of solar had the billions that nuclear had, including the billions in R&D for early nuclear,  we’d be talking about a much different mix of energy in the grid.  It’s only recently that more states have joined California, Massachusett, NY and others in a more aggressive energy posture, Unfortunately many other states still ahve minimal conservation and RE plans.

Large scale battery technology uses use Bromine, Zinc, Vanadium and other elements. The nice thing is that since batteries are closed systems, all contents can be recycled, abd they need not be emitted into the biosphere.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Sep 20, 2013

That’s a phony excuse.  The amount of land required to supply each person with food is a lot more than would be required to supply solar energy, and both are crucial to society.

Yes, they have the option of continuing to burn fossil fuel, which is exactly what will happen if they don’t choose non-fossil options that work economically when scaled up.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Sep 21, 2013



You are not  saying that it Matters Not that No Matter how much energy PVs pump out, in the Sum They still produce Zero at Night, and a probably unmanageable spike at Noon?

(Lest someone misinterprete your comment)

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