Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corp plans to invest ¥60 billion ($549 million) to quadruple its solar battery production in four years to meet growing demand for renewable energy.
Spain and Germany are cutting subsidies for solar power, but Mitsubishi Electric and rivals, such as Sharp Corp and Kyocera Corp are betting on growing solar power demand in the United States given high oil prices and fears about climate change.
Japan’s solar market is also expected to grow, if modestly, with sources saying that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to seek ¥23.8 billion for subsidies for residential solar panels. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the US solar market passes Europe’s in a few years,” said Aiji Suzuki, who heads Mitsubishi’s production facility Nakatsugawa Works. “In Japan, growth will be a little slower without something like Germany’s feed-in tariff system.” “Depending on the size of the subsidies, the domestic market might just grow by a double-digit percentage in three to four years.”
Demand for renewable energy such as solar cells and shrewd procurement of silicon gave companies like Germany’s Q-Cells AG and China’s Suntech Power Holdings market share at the expense of companies like Mitsubishi Electric, which was bumped down six notches to 12th place in 2007.
The company plans to spend ¥22 billion to lift annual capacity at its solar plant in Nagano Prefecture from the current 150 megawatts to 220 megawatts in October. It said it will spend another ¥28 billion to build a second plant in December 2009, raise annual capacity there to 380 megawatts by 2012, and expand its solar sales network in the United States, Spain and France.
Mitsubishi Electric officials also said the company is conducting research on thin-film solar cells, and may shift production to the new technology. Thin-film uses a fraction of the pricey silicon used in conventional solar cells, but is less efficient in converting sunlight into electricity.
The electronics conglomerate produces factory automation tools as well as satellites and air conditioners. It has been losing market share in solar power, which makes up 1% of its sales. It expects its solar power sales to grow to ¥170 billion in the year ending March 2012 from a little more than ¥50 billion in the business year ended in March. (Reuters)