Electronics giant Panasonic sets out its stall in the solar market

Panasonic has formally laid down the gauntlet to rivals Sharp and Kyocera as it angles to become the leading solar-energy firm within the reinvigorated Japanese market.

Panasonic, which entered the solar business with a splash in late 2009 with its majority purchase of Sanyo, has set 1 July as the launch date for its hotly anticipated ‘HIT-215 Series Home Solar System’.

It marks the first time the two companies have collaborated on a product.

Panasonic has put the HIT-215 at the heart of its strategy to pivot away from consumer electronics and remake itself as the world’s leading integrator of photovoltaic and energy-saving technologies within homes and buildings.

Using Sanyo’s solar panels and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and Panasonic’s energy-management technologies, the system gives homeowners an unprecedented level of control over their energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Initially it will be sold through 18,000 retail outlets across Japan with a sticker price of ¥156,450 ($1,704) per panel.

Panasonic’s more holistic solar strategy cuts a stark contrast with Chinese firms focused on commoditising wafers, cells and modules.

“You will be living with virtually zero carbon emissions through creating, saving, storing and managing energy,” says Panasonic vice president Toshihiro Sakamoto.

Sakamoto bluntly states Panasonic’s ambition to overtake Sharp and Kyocera within the Japanese solar market by 2012, with plans to jump its domestic market share from 20% to 35%.

Last year Sharp, the world’s third largest solar-module maker, held 40% of the Japanese market, followed by Kyocera with 26.5%, according to market researcher RTS.

Panasonic president Fumio Ohtsubo unveiled a three-year business plan in May to move away from consumer electronics, where it has been losing market share for years to Korean rivals Samsung and LG.

In a marked changed of language, Ohtsubo began referring to Panasonic’s energy-systems division as its “flagship business”, while calling renewables “the biggest business chance of this era”.

The HIT-215 relies on Sanyo’s heterojunction with intrinsic thin-film solar cells, which use one layer of monocrystalline silicon and one of thin-film amorphous silicon.

The hybrid technology allows the panels to achieve an average conversion efficiency of 16.8%.