November 14, 2007 – Major overseas solar cell players including China’s Suntech and Germany’s Q-Cells are trying to establish footholds in Japan to challenge the “oligopoly” enjoyed by incumbent Sharp Corp., notes the Nikkei daily.
Following its acquisition of Tokyo-based solar cell maker MSK Corp., Suntech Power Holdings, the world’s No.4 solar cell maker, aims to begin production and sales in Japan as early as next spring out of a factory in Saku, Nagano Prefecture, using solar cells imported from China, the paper reports. Sales goals are the equivalent of 20MW/year, leveraging MSK’s contacts within the home construction sector.
Meanwhile, global No.2 solar cell firm Q-Cells AG has established an office in Japan, its third in Asia (others are in Hong Kong and Hangzhou, China).
Japan’s solar cell market is seen growing at a >20% clip annually, and domestic shipments are essentially divvied up between four local firms: Sharp, Sanyo Electric Co., Kyocera Corp., and Mitsubishi Electric Corp., the paper notes. Market-leading Sharp is already working on a plan to achieve 1000MW of solar cells/year at a new factory in fiscal 2009. But with demand heating up around the globe (notably Europe), silicon prices have risen 15% this year and supply shortages loom — Sharp barely achieved 50% utilization of its total 700MW output capacity in 2006.
Thus, Suntech and Q-Cells feel they have an advantage over domestic rivals because they have secure long-term silicon supply contracts. Sharp aims to counter with mass-production of thin-film cells that use 1/100 of silicon as conventional solar cells.
Competition is heating up from domestic players outside the traditional solar market as well, the paper notes. Honda Motor Co. and Showa Shell Sekiyu KK also are working on non-silicon based solar cells created from metal-compound coated glass.