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Chinese makers light up solar power expo.
Time£º3/5/2011 2:16:03 PM

The expo, to be held through Friday, is hosting 656 companies, up from 579 last year. The clout of Chinese makers is readily visible as they set up their booths in a section also occupied by leading Japanese photovoltaic suppliers.

A representative of Suntech Power Holdings Co., the world's No. 1 producer of solar panels by volume, stressed the durability of the company's products, saying Suntech guarantees the panels for 25 years.

The representative talked about solar panel maintenance and emphasized how easy it is to install the panels on Japanese homes.

At a nearby booth, Yingli Green Energy Holding Co., ranked third in the world and also from China, tried to raise its profile among Japanese consumers by promoting its sponsorship of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Japanese electronics companies used to dominate the global market for solar panels.

In 2005, four of the world's top five companies in terms of market share were Japanese.

But no Japanese companies are expected to end up in the top five for 2010.

Yutaka Yamamoto, president of Suntech Power Japan Corp., said that competition will only intensify in Japan.

"With the entry of so many players, we expect excess supply in the latter half of this year," he said. "A shakeout of the firms will accelerate."

The four largest suppliers to the domestic market are still Japanese companies, including Sanyo Electric Co. and Sharp Corp.

But Suntech is intensifying its offensive, attacking competitors with lower prices.

It began selling solar panels at outlets operated by Yamada Denki Co., the country's biggest retailer of electronics products, in 2009.

Solar panels are spreading in Europe and other parts of the world because of interest in energy conservation and subsidies offered by governments.

As a result, a price war is heating up.

The global market price of solar panels fell by 40 to 50 percent over the past two years, according to Kyocera Corp., one of the leading suppliers.

In Japan, the price at the end of 2010 had dropped by more than 10 percent from March the same year, according to sources.

"One reason is that new entrants from China and elsewhere started selling less expensive products," an industry official said.

Now, the average price of home solar power generation systems is just under 600,000 yen ($7,313) per kilowatt, compared with around 1 million yen about a decade ago.

Demand in Japan is expected to expand as the government continues to offer incentives.

It revived a subsidy program in January 2009 for households to encourage installation of solar panels.

In November the same year, a system that requires electric power companies to buy surplus electricity generated at households and offices was introduced.

Japanese manufacturers are fighting back against foreign competition, highlighting high power conversion efficiency and other features.

Higher power conversion efficiency is expected to be a major selling point because Japanese houses are small and have limited space to install solar panels.

Sanyo is set to release a product with a conversion efficiency of 21.6 percent, which it says is the world's highest.

For its part, Kyocera highlighted the durability of its products at the Big Sight expo.

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