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Japan To Overtake US And Germany In Solar Installations

Germany and the United States have been powerhouse names in the solar industry for the last couple of years, but a new player is slowly emerging thanks to a healthy feed-in tariff (FIT): Japan.

With its FIT paying up to ¥42 per kilowatt hour, Japan is expected to grow by 120% in 2013 and install more than 5 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity according to a new report from IMS Research, part of IHS.

In fact, Japanese installation of photovoltaic (PV) systems is expected to exceed 1 GW in the first quarter of 2013 alone, and by the end of 2013 is set to jump right past Germany and the US to become the world’s second largest PV market behind China.

“At ¥42 Japan’s FIT is by far the most attractive globally—overly generous perhaps, which could lead to overheating of the market,” explained Ash Sharma, senior director of solar research at IHS.

“And while a 10 percent reduction in tariffs is widely expected by industry players, this will have little effect on both internal rates of return and market demand. Furthermore, many systems that have already applied for the higher FIT are able to benefit from this rate of ¥42 even if they are installed after April 1.”

 Japan set to become world's second largest PV market

“Residential system prices in Japan are roughly double than those installed in Germany. The ability to sell modules and inverters at significant premium compared to the rest of the world, coupled with high demand and growth, provides a much-needed profit stream for Japanese suppliers,” commented Frank Xie, report co-author and IHS senior analyst for PV and solar research.

The report shows that Japan has been attempting to attract international suppliers, but the Japanese market remains a tough market for non-Japanese companies to compete in.

“While many Chinese and even U.S. module suppliers are now serving the Japanese market, they remain the minority and have largely needed to resort to OEM agreements and partnerships with Japanese manufacturers, despite being highly regarded brands in the rest of the world,” observed Sharma.

“Simply put, Japanese customers want to buy Japanese modules. Non-Japanese inverter companies have found it even harder to serve this market as tough regulations from the certification board—JET—and even more stringent requirements from utilities have meant that substantial product redesigns are required before they are able to target this market effectively. As a result, the market is currently suffering from a bottleneck in inverter supply.”

Despite 2013’s massive expectations, the boom will be short lived, according to the report. Japan is making a big deal of installations larger than 2 megawatts, or “mega solar.”

“These so-called ‘mega-solar’ projects are being deployed at a rapid rate, and we expect they will account for approximately 25 percent of total demand in 2013,” Xie noted. “Government policy is in clear support of these projects while the country grapples with severe energy shortages following its shunning of nuclear power. However, this is likely to be short-lived and decline after 2014 once the current pipeline of approved projects is completed, largely because of a shortage of land in the country.”

“Another segment of the market that gets fewer headlines, but should not be neglected, is commercial rooftops,” Sharma concluded. “Systems in the range of 10-50 kilowatts are in very high demand in Japan due to high incentives, high electricity prices, power shortages for commercial properties and relatively simple regulations for installations of this size.”

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