Solar Frontier chalked up its first full-year of profitability in 2013, with owner Showa Shell Sekiyu claiming the company will keep returning to the same well, with Japan to remain the centre of focus for the time being.
Showa Shell’s “Energy Solutions” unit – of which thin-film
giant Solar Frontier forms the major part – remains but a small part of its
overall business, with its oil-related activities still accounting for nearly
95% of Showa Shell’s overall revenues of ¥2.95tr ($28.9bn) last year.
However, Energy Solutions is growing far more rapidly than
the company’s legacy oil-refining business, with revenues surging 80.4% last
year to ¥141.2bn, principally on strong sales at Solar Frontier.
Critically, the Energy Solutions unit reported a net income of
¥17.5bn, compared to a net loss of ¥15.4bn in 2012.
While Showa Shell – which is minority owned by Saudi Aramco
– does not break out Solar Frontier’s performance individually, it notes that
higher sales and reduced costs drove its solar business to “its first ever
In addition to Solar Frontier, the Energy Solutions unit
owns a natural-gas plant, and is building a biomass plant and several large
2013 was a banner year for Solar Frontier, which profited
hugely from the booming Japanese PV market, with growing business across the
residential, commercial and mega-solar sectors.
Solar Frontier’s 900MW Kunitomi module factory ran at full
capacity throughout 2013; its 60MW Miyazaki plant resumed production last July;
and in December the company announced plans to open a new 150MW module factory
in the Tohoku region.
While Showa Shell says that Solar Frontier’s business “will
remain focused on Japan for the time being”, it notes that it is “making
preparations” to expand sales internationally.
The Tohoku plant will act as a “blueprint” for future
factories outside Japan, with the company having recently told Recharge that any foreign factories will
likely be of a modest size, allowing it to get close to a number of key
Showa Shell expects its overall revenues to grow by 7% in 2014, although growth at Solar Frontier will likely be far greater.
Improving the operational efficiency of Solar Frontier's factories remains a priority in the year ahead, Showa Shell says.