Impact of Japanese disaster on PV industry

Charles Annis – Vice President, Manufacturing Research, Solarbuzz

KYOTO, JAPAN: The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck Northeast Japan onMarch 11 and the tsunami that followed later killed thousands anddevastated huge parts of the country. In the process, multiple nuclearreactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station were damaged;two of them have already partially melted down, and the cooling systemat a third has failed.

Despite the extreme gravity of thesituation in Northern Japan, much of Japan’s industrial heartland in the central part of the country did not suffer significant damage, and have power and water at normal levels. With the exception of M. Setek’sfacilities, Japan’s solar manufacturing industry appears to be mainlyintact.

The three largest polysilicon producers in Japan are Tokuyama, Mitsubishi and M. Setek:

* Tokuyama’s facilities are in Yamaguchi prefecture in the western part of the country.

* Mitsubishi’s plant is in Yokaichi in Mie Prefecture in middle of Japan.

* However, M. Setek’s factory is in Soma Fukushima, an area hard hit by the disaster.

The largest wafer producers in Japan are Kyocera and TKX. Both companies’facilities are in Kansai in central Japan. M. Setek is the third-largest PV wafer focused maker, and its factory is also in Fukushima.

The three largest cell makers are Sharp, Kyocera and Sanyo. All threecompanies have their main facilities in Kansai or close by in the middle of Japan.

M. Setek, which is now owned by AUO, announced that it is stopping production at its Fukushima plants. Its facilities were not damaged by the tsunami, but are stopping operation due to lack ofelectricity and water. AUO stated that production would resume in about a week.

M. Setek’s customers will likely be inconvenienced. Andthe entire Japanese economy will be limping along for a while, which may cause some minor shipment and short-term pricing issues for PVcomponents. Even so, Solarbuzz does not expect Japan’s tragedy to haveany major impact on the PV supply chain, since Japan now accounts forless than 10 percent of worldwide polysilicon, wafer and cell production capacity.

Solarbuzz is forecasting that manufacturing capacity will be more than sufficient supply in all upstream segments, whichshould absorb any supply constraints.

However, Japan’s disastercould have much broader implications on the debate about how to balancerenewable, nuclear and conventional energy sources. How much influenceit might have will, unfortunately, probably be tied to how serious thesituation is with the damaged reactors. Pictures of citizens beingchecked for radiation, and the struggle by technicians to keep thereactors from melting down amidst explosions is certainly not goodpublic relations for the nuclear power industry.

There is nosilver lining in this horrific situation. But Japan’s disaster maybecome an important point in the debate on the true cost of variouselectricity generating technologies. It may help swing the pendulumfurther away from nuclear and more towards solar and other renewables.

Source: Solarbuzz.