Suntech eyes Japan growth

June 21, 2011

By Leonora Walet

Suntech Power may be the world’s biggest solar panel maker but it trails Sharp, Kyocera, Panasonic and Mitsubishi Electric in the fast-growing Japanese solar market.

Now, the company is set to take on these Japanese rivals on their home turf and aims to double its market share in the country to 10 percent next year.

The catalyst? The expected adoption of a special tariff, now being discussed by lawmakers, on power from solar panels to lure investors to bigger projects.

Japan’s ambitious plan, if implemented, to get solar panels on the roofs of every new building would of course also give the market a hefty boost.

“We need to take market share from the top four. Our immediate goal is to pass Mitsubishi,” Yutaka Yamamoto, Suntech Power Japan president, told the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit in Tokyo.

Suntech entered Japan’s solar market — the world’s fastest growing after Europe — in 2006, and last year ranked as the No.5 panel supplier in the country.

Yamamoto said Suntech would win more market share once the so-called feed-in-tariff scheme starts. Under such a scheme, utilities would have to buy surplus electricity at higher rates from large-scale solar projects.  

He also expects to clinch larger solar panel supply deals.

Once spending on commercial-use solar projects picks up in Japan, Suntech would be able to underbid Japanese rivals in price, Yamamoto said.

Suntech’s rise to the top was no accident.

Capitalising on the billions the Chinese government is pouring into green technologies and low production costs, manufacturers like Suntech can supply among the cheapest solar panels in the world. Suntech, along with other Chinese suppliers like Yingli Green Energy and Trina Solar, supply over 60 percent of the world’s solar panels.

Japan’s solar market is expected to grow 20 percent this year, Yamamoto said, and could double in the coming years depending on how quickly Japan builds its policy on solar, presenting Suntech with further opportunities for growth.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Kim Kyung Hoon

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