Sharp says Wales solar plant nears capacity amid industry slump

Tue Sep 3, 2013 6:39am EDT

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By Nina Chestney

LONDON, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Sharp Energy Solutions Europe said its solar photovoltaic (PV) factory in Wales had reached almost full capacity at a time that many solar companies are shutting or cutting back their European operations.

The plant in Wrexham, with a production capacity of PV modules totalling 400 megawatts, appears to have survived a severe cost-cutting programme by its parent company, even while the European solar industry has suffered from overcapacity, falling prices and a trade dispute.

"We see continuous demand for photovoltaic modules in Europe," Peter Thiele, executive vice president at Sharp Energy Solutions Europe, a subsidiary of Japanese electronics group Sharp Corp., said on Tuesday in a statement.

Over the past couple of years, many European solar firms have been suffering from government subsidy cuts due to the region's economic slowdown and a dispute between the European Union and China over Chinese solar panel imports.

Sharp said its Wales plant, which started operations in 2004, has been shielded from recent European cutbacks because its focus in the region has been on the residential installation market and because it is part of a global electronics company.

The plant also makes microwave ovens, according to the Sharp website.

"As a result, our business has been less affected by recent market volatility compared to competitors," Thiele said.

He added that the plant has also been helped by demand for PV modules from Japan.

While European governments have been cutting back, Japan last year introduced generous subsidies for solar as it turns to renewables to replace capacity from nuclear shutdowns in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in 2011.

Sharp will continue to expand its solar PV business and is planning to add products in LED lighting and energy storage over the next three years, Thiele said.

Last year, Sharp Corp.'s main lenders, the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho Corporate Bank , agreed to a 360 billion yen bailout of the firm.

As part of the deal, sources said, Sharp would have to shut two of its solar panel module plants in Wales and in the United States and consolidate production at several Japanese sites into one location, as part of a cost-cutting plan.

A company spokesman could not immediately comment on the status of Sharp's cost-cutting, including plans for its other PV plants, including its U.S. plant in Memphis, Tennessee. (editing by Jane Baird)

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