HomeCorporateNewsPhotovoltaics in Japan

"Increased focus on renewable energy”

11 March was the fourth anniversary of the reactor accident at Fukushima. Following this disaster, Japan's power system has been completely restructured – with the creation of new photovoltaic facilities. An interview with photovoltaics expert Dr. Rolf Sohrmann about the Fukushima reactor catastrophe and the ongoing restructuring of the Japanese power grid.

 

Japan's power system has been completely restructured – with the creation of new photovoltaic facilities. How has the Japanese energy system changed since then?

 

In the immediate aftermath of the reactor catastrophe of 2011, all nuclear power stations in Japan were shut down. In April 2014, the new government decided to reintroduce nuclear power as part of its new energy strategy. Under this strategy, Japan's electricity supplies are to be generated from a mixture of nuclear power, fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. However, there is widespread opposition to nuclear power among the Japanese public; according to the most recent surveys up to 80 percent of the population is strongly opposed.

 

How important are alternative energy sources for Japan in the present context?

 

The energy strategy does not as yet contain any targets for the respective contributions of the various energy sources to the energy mix. This is to be decided this year. Nonetheless it is clear that the

Dr. Rolf Sohrmann, Business Unit Leader Application specific solutions

contribution of renewable energy sources is to be significantly increased. By 2030, the contribution of renewables is to likely to clearly exceed the 20 percent provided for in the 2010 energy plan. However, there are hopes that sustained pressure from the public and a possible future change of government will result in an even greater focus on renewables.

What types of generation capacity are being preferentially installed?

Of course, wind power and photovoltaics have the greatest potential of the various available renewable resources, with the focus at present being on the installation of photovoltaic systems. Japan is now massively investing in this area. Around 20 GW of the currently available photovoltaic capacity of 24.5 GW was installed since 2011. The installed total wind power capacity is significantly lower, which is due among other things to the extended lead times required for approval processes/project planning and implementation.

How is the photovoltaics market likely to develop in Japan?

The subsidisation of PV facilities via the feed-in tariffs is falling again. Nonetheless, there is a pipeline of well over 50 GW of planned or installed PV power stations. For the sake of comparison: in Germany at present, we have an installed PV capacity of just under 40 GW, with Japan likely to overtake us in the near future. The Japanese subsidisation model differs from comparable European programmes in that the date of application is relevant for the amount of support received. In Europe, on the other hand, what counts is the date of coming on stream. Even if not all of the planned capacity is actually implemented in the coming years, the prospects for photovoltaics in Japan remain extremely positive. This also means that the necessary attention must be given to developing the Japanese grid in parallel to the development of renewable resources. We are familiar with this issue from the ongoing debate in Germany.

Weidmüller has been present on the Japanese market since 1980 and our business is doing extremely well.

What contribution exactly is Weidmüller making in Japan?

 

Our product range in photovoltaics covers the DC-side of a photovoltaic system between module and power inverter – known in the photovoltaic context as combiner boxes and string combiner boxes. Especially in large PV arrays, which account for a major part of the installed capacity in Japan, these combiner boxes form the centre piece of the electrical connectivity and performance monitoring facilities for the photovoltaic park.

How successful are you with your products in Japan?

Weidmüller has been present on the Japanese market since 1980 and our business is doing extremely well. At present, we are one of the market leaders on the Japanese photovoltaic market. We are the No. 1 supplier for PV parks up to 1000 Volt DC and No. 1 among the international suppliers of combiner boxes and No. 3 overall, including local suppliers. Our focus is on sales, technical support, on site service and local logistics.

Why is it about Weidmüller that makes it so successful?

There are various reasons for this.On the one hand, we have been present on the Japanese market for many years now and have built up existing relationships to customers, who have confidence in the Weidmüller brand. This means that we have a thorough understanding of customer requirements and wishes on the PV market. On the other hand, our success is based on our expertise acquired over many years and our experience on various world photovoltaic markets. Our customers in Japan also notice this: Like us, they are excited about the opportunity to make a contribution to renewable power generation with our products and solutions, which is especially important in the context of the Fukushima catastrophe.

What challenges do you face in Japan?

The photovoltaic market is volatile, that is opportunities appear sometimes at very short notice, usually stimulated by attractive subsidy conditions introduced in the short term. This means we have to react quickly. It was clearly Fukushima that clearly shifted the focus in Japan to renewables. The practical promotion of PV generation facilities by the feed-in tariff has stimulated the industry. This created a rapidly growing market, capacity had to be installed, knowledge about everything from planning to installation had to be acquired and disseminated. This is where our extensive experience in the PV business in other markets stood us in good stead and we were able to build on the support of the Japanese organisation with our global PV team. The Japanese market is characterised by a tradition of high quality demands,

Mounted between the solar modules and inverters our generator junction boxes provide an interconnection of the generated power.

which are always a challenge but which is something we are familiar with due to our long-term presence and close cooperation with our customers.

How, in your opinion, is the Japanese energy system likely to develop in future?

Regardless of where you look, the growth of renewable energy worldwide now has an unstoppable momentum yet from a global perspective is still at a relatively early stage of its development. The leading market researchers are forecasting double digit growth rates worldwide – the market potential for German suppliers is therefore enormous. In Japan we believe that the government will have the vision not to abruptly cut off its support for renewables as has been the case in some European countries. On the contrary, we are anticipating a long-term reorientation of Japanese culture to these forms of energy production making them an integral part of the country's energy supply mix.