Can you briefly introduce your company? What is the reason for your company's ambitious expansion program at this stage of the market?
Solar Frontier K.K., a 100% subsidiary of Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., is committed to creating the most economical, ecological solar energy solutions in the world, on the world's largest scale. We believe our proprietary CIS solar panel technology, denoting the key ingredients copper, indium, and selenium, has the best overall potential to set the world’s most enduring standard for solar energy. This is based on our legacy of work in solar technology since the 1970s, the priority focus our laboratories have given to CIS since 1993, and our success in large-scale CIS commercialization since 2007. The critical factors that combine to make CIS the overall economical and ecological leader include high efficiency and low production costs as well as superior reliability, stability, sustainability, non-toxicity, and lower overall energy consumption in the manufacturing process to yield a faster energy payback time. That is why in 2009, we announced plans for a 900MW factory in Miyazaki, Japan. Scheduled to commence operations in 2011, it will become the world’s largest PV production facility and enable Solar Frontier to meet worldwide demand for the new standard in affordable solar panel performance.
Why do you believe that CIGS technology can compete with the well established c-Si manufacturers? Silicon prices are falling, with room for even more reduction, bringing c-Si modules close to $1/Wp in a few years.
We use fewer natural resources and raw materials to produce our thin-film CIS panels than crystalline-silicon production does, meaning we have a production process characterized by less energy consumption and fewer material resources – benefitting our customers in the cost savings we can pass on to them, and benefitting the environment as we have a smaller carbon footprint per KW of production capacity, and providing a shorter energy payback time.
Where this really makes a difference, though, is when the process is scaled up to mass production levels. Our advanced automated production plant in Miyazaki, Japan, will ramp up to 900 MW of annual capacity by 2011, becoming the world’s largest solar panel production plant. As the scale of production increases, the cost of production per KW of capacity falls. That creates savings we can pass on to our customers, allowing us to meet global demand for higher quality at lower cost.
What are your expectations for the Japanese PV market by 2013? (in terms of MW/year)
We agree with the Japanese government roadmap as follows:
When could your technology make solar energy cost competitive with grid electricity (retail) in Japan?
Japan has relatively high electricity prices, however it is a predominately residential market with relatively high non-module system costs. In addition, Japan’s insolation is lower than in sun belt countries. However, in line with NEDO’s roadmap, we expect grid parity in Japan to be reached within the decade.
What module price development do you expect next year? And how will your product be positioned in the European PV market? Will it be able to compete with some of the thin-film a-Si module manufacturers already offering close to $1/Wp?
We expect module prices to remain relatively stable in 2011 due to strong demand from numerous markets. Our product will be positioned as a high efficiency, high quality, ecological thin film offering. Our CIS technology offers greatly higher efficiency than a-Si and has been proven to produce as much as 10% more kWh per kWp than crystalline silicon modules. Therefore we believe our product will be highly competitive in the market.
What do you expect to become the major markets by 2013? Do you expect market demand to shift from European domination towards Asia and the USA in the next three years?
By 2013, we believe there will be a much larger number of 100MW+ and 1GW+ markets around the world. While Europe will continue to be one of the most important PV markets, Europe’s current 80% world market share is likely to fall as other regions grow more rapidly. We are currently seeing very strong interest in our product from Asia and the USA.
What do you see as the most important market segments in Japan for the near future: residential, commercial, or utility-scale projects?
In Japan currently, the residential market accounts for approximately 90% of the total market. Residential will continue to be the most important in the near term but commercial projects are likely to gradually increase their share. Compared to other countries, there is relatively limited scope for large utility projects in Japan due to limited suitable land availability.
How can solar PV, and more specifically your company's technology, compete with concentrated solar power plants in utility-scale PV projects in potential markets such as the USA, India, China, and elsewhere?
Our technology has much lower water requirements and O&M costs than CSP technology. Our technology also has several advantages vs. crystalline PV including as much as 10% higher kWh per kW installed and higher shading tolerance allowing closer spacing of module rows. In the longer term, we believe that our high efficiency CIS has the greatest potential as a solar technology for low LCOE and long-term reliability.
What do you see as the major trends and drivers for solar energy in the coming decade?
Demand for solar will continue to increase rapidly due to technology, economic and policy drivers. PV efficiency levels will improve and module and system costs will continue to decline. Global policy related to climate change and other environmental issues will also continue to be a major driver. We believe PV will become commonplace by the end of the decade.
James Plastow will be one of the high-level speakers at the Fourth Global Demand Conference on September 6-7 in Valencia, Spain, during the week of the PVSEC. For more information on the Fourth Global Demand Conference, please visit www.globaldemandconference.com