Japan helps Solar Frontier into profit

Japanese thin-film module maker Solar Frontier says strong demand in its home market helped it generate its first quarterly profit since the business started two years ago.

Solar Frontier parent firm Showa Shell Sekiyu says its Energy Solutions unit, dominated by module sales, generated an operating income of 197m yen ($2.1m) in the quarter from October to December 2012.

Revenues in the three months were 31bn yen.

The fourth-quarter profit compares to an operating loss of 3.5bn yen in the third quarter and 9.2bn yen in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Like many of its peers, Solar Frontier’s profits were buoyed by a surge in demand for PV plants, with developers keen to sign-off on new projects before Japan’s generous feed-in tariff is reduced in April.

Showa Shell reduced full-year operating losses for its solar business to 15.4bn yen compared with a loss of 29bn yen for 2011. Revenues at the segment increased 19% to 78bn yen.

It says the deficit reduction was due to “significant cost reduction, including production costs, and focusing more on lucrative domestic sales in pursuit of higher added-value”.

Showa Shell opened a 100bn yen production facility in Kunitomi in 2011 to mass-produce modules using its copper indium selenium (CIS) technology. A relatively unknown technology at the time, the company says in a new medium-term plan that it wants to become Japan’s leading solar brand by 2017.

Solar Frontier has not disclosed shipment volumes or selling prices for 2012. A spokesman told Recharge earlier this month that it will soon reach cumulative shipments of 1GW.

On announcing its full year results, the company says it has suspended production at an older 60MW plant to concentrate production at the 900MW Kunitomi plant.

It is investigating opportunities to produce new module products currently under development at the smaller facility.