December 1, 2010 / 7:49 AM / 9 years ago

Japan's Sharp to invest $180 million in new solar cells

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Sharp Corp said on Wednesday it would spend 15 billion yen ($180 million) on launching production of advanced solar cells as it battles to maintain its share of the market.

Mimicking a strategy it has used in its television business, Sharp is focusing on selling pricier, more advanced solar panels than its foreign competitors in a bid to boost profitability.

As with TV panels, the strategy has won it a big share of the domestic market, but in global terms the firm ranks third behind U.S.-based First Solar and Suntech Power of China, with about 10 percent of the market.

“We want to maintain our current position,” Tetsuo Onishi, head of the company’s solar division, told reporters.

“If we don’t have a share of about 10 percent, we will lose our market presence.”

But he said the new solar cells were best suited for the Japanese housing market, where efficient panels are needed to save space and Sharp already boasts a 40 percent share.

About 200 MW of solar panel production will come on line in the financial year ending March 31, the company said in a press release, bringing total capacity to 1,070 MW.

The new line will make high-output panels that Sharp says can convert sunlight more efficiently than conventional cells, because their electrodes are positioned on the back, allowing the whole surface to receive light.

The new panels offer a conversion rate of about 17 percent, compared with about 14 percent for conventional panels of a similar type, Onishi said.

The cells will be made in Sakai, western Japan, also the site of Sharp’s 10th generation liquid crystal display factory.

GLOBAL OUTLOOK

On the outlook for the global industry, Onishi said the company sees cutbacks in feed-in-tariffs, which oblige utilities to buy renewable energy at a premium, causing the European solar market to shrink in the financial year starting in April.

However, he expects the global market to grow to 14 GW in the same year from 13 GW this year, then to 18.4 GW in the following financial year. The company expects steady growth in Asia, where several countries are considering introducing feed-in-tariffs.

Its stock was unchanged in Tokyo trading, closing at 805 yen. Since the start of the year its shares have fallen 32 percent, compared with a 6 percent dip in the benchmark Nikkei 225.

($1=83.57 Yen)

Reporting by Isabel Reynolds and Tim Kelly; Editing by Joseph Radford

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