PARIS – Bad news for the solar business has been piling up lately. It might have all started with the overblown Solyndra fiasco in the United States in 2011. Then comes China’s Suntech Power bankruptcy in March, followed new punitive EU tariffs – announced earlier this week – of nearly 12 percent on China-made solar panels. Focusing on these events could explain the waning interest in solar power in the United States.
Even though it’s happening across the Atlantic, a continuing trade tariff battle between Europe and China also contributes to solar’s bad rap. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling weary about the news that China is retaliating against EU solar duties by launching a probe into European wine. Such a classic tit-for-tat maneuvering in trade disputes has always been a farce. It will not help generate more solar power or inspire people to believe in its potential.
Strangely enough, Japan, where I just went for a brief visit, seems relatively free of solar-phobia.
On the contrary, people are now saying that Japan is in the process of unleashing its solar potential.
The day I landed in Tokyo last week, I read an IHS report with the headline: “Japan set to become the world’s largest solar revenue market in 2013.”
IHS pointed out that Japan’s solar installations surged by “a stunning 270 percent (in gigawatts) in the first quarter of 2013,” positioning the country to surpass Germany to become the world’s largest photovoltaics (PV) market in terms of revenue this year.
More specifically, “Japan is forecast to install $20 billion worth of PV systems in 2013, up 82 percent from $11 billion in 2012,” IHS said. “In contrast, the global market is set for tepid 4 percent growth. The strong revenue performance for Japan this year is party driven by the high solar prices in the country.”
It’s important to note, though, that Japan is expected to install fewer gigawatss (GW) in 2013, compared to China, which still is the world’s largest market in GW installation. Driving Japan to the top of the solar market chart is the high price of PV systems in Japan, according to IHS.
As a native, I’m familiar with the popularity of solar energy in Japan. In the 1980’s, my late father, an engineer, installed on our house our neighborhood’s first solar rooftop. On a sunny day, my mother never had to turn on the gas to fill our deep Japanese bathtub with hot water.
Fast forward 30 years. What’s the real driving force behind such a surge in solar power generation in Japan today?