Sharp solar back in the game

Sharp has regained its spot among the leading module suppliers, shipping the most panels in the world in the first quarter.

The Osaka-based electronics group delivered nearly 750MW of panels in the three months to 31 March, according to NPD Solarbuzz.

Sharp ceded its leading position to First Solar and a number of Chinese module manufacturers about five years ago, after dominating the global industry for nearly half a century.

This is the first time a non-Chinese module supplier has taken the leading position since the fourth quarter of 2009, says NPD Solarbuzz senior analyst Ray Lian.

He adds that strong demand in Japan and Sharp’s decision to outsource production to Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers has helped it ramp up shipments in recent years. The strategy has marked a significant reversal for the company, which traditionally produced its own cells and modules.

“Sharp’s success in the first quarter of this year confirms the value of brand-recognition within the PV industry,” Lian says. “It also shows the viability of the so-called ‘fab-lite’ model, in which either internal manufacturing capacity or outsourced supply can be managed effectively to address short-term opportunities.”

However, Sharp has warned that its solar unit faces an operating loss this fiscal year, despite a 70% surge in sales from 2012 on the back of steady utility-scale demand in Japan. It foresees a 34% plunge in sales this year to about 290bn yen ($2.84bn), which would push its solar division to a 5bn yen operating loss.