SunPower on hunt for Japan projects

SunPower and French oil giant Total, its majority shareholder, are on the hunt for utility-scale PV projects in Japan, with the aim of taking equity stakes in projects struggling to secure finance, the company tells Recharge.

SunPower is already one of the most successful foreign module suppliers in Japan, having historically focused on the residential sector. Roughly one-quarter of the 1.1GW of modules it produced last year were sold in Japan.

But the California-based company is looking to develop other revenue streams in the Japanese market, piggybacking on its broad US experience in areas ranging from EPC services to solar-leasing.

“We have initiated co-development [in Japan] with our majority shareholder,” says Zach Struyk, SunPower’s sales director in East Asia for the utility and commercial sectors. “We’re going and looking for Japanese developers with projects in various stages of maturity.”

“Given the talents of Total at arranging project finance and the size of the company, we think we’ll get some projects financed that might not otherwise be.”

SunPower will typically look to buy 50% stakes in the projects, with the original developers still on board, Struyk says.

“We’re also considering doing EPC work” in Japan, he adds, which would be “independent but related to” the company’s own development activities.

SunPower, which competes with the likes of SolarCity in the booming US solar-lease market, is also considering exporting that model to Japan, says Takashi Sugihara, director of strategic accounts at SunPower Japan.

Last month SunPower announced a new $220m war chest provided by Bank of America Merrill Lynch to finance its residential solar-lease business in the US.

“We’re studying whether [solar leasing] is feasible in the Japanese market,” Sugihara says. “It’s only natural that we want to enjoy the success we’ve had in the US in Japan as well.”