Solar Frontier’s
unique black
solar panels
Miyazaki, Japan — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 28 April 2011 – One of the world’s largest solar module factories “’ perched atop the foothills of West Japan’s bamboo and pine-covered mountains “’ has started production, and is capable of producing 112,000 modules (130 W to 150 W each) per week.

RenewableEnergyWorld.Com reports that this fully automated facility – capable of producing about 1GW of thin-film solar modules – is the result of more than three decades of research and development by an oil company, which hopes to eventually generate 50% of its revenue from sales of renewable energy products and services.

“We won’t take anything less than 10% of global market share” in the next seven years, said Shigeya Kato, chairman of Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., which has a 100% subsidy in module factory operator Solar Frontier. “The market has grown so much that even a 1GW plant capacity won’t reach 10%.”

Solar Frontier said it could eventually build an overseas plant, but it must first prove to Showa Shell’s board of oilmen that its uniquely black solar panels can translate into black gold in the competitive, global thin-film industry.

The company invested more than US$1 billion at its Kunitomi plant in Miyazaki Prefecture on the southwest island of Kyushu. “Recouping that investment will be challenging,” Kato said, because the Yen is trading low compared to the dollar and euro. Further complicating Solar Frontier’s efforts is the weak Japanese economy, which economists say will likely sink deeper into recession in the wake of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that caused an estimated US$300 billion in damage. Still, Solar Frontier leaders say demand for solar energy could be a bright story for this struggling country.

Solar Frontier’s Kunitomi factory produces modules that use a version of the copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) technology.