Forward : Japan’s certification maze|
Gaining certification in Japan can be a lengthy process. Image: Powerway Energy.Blogger
Japan’s solar market has begun heating up following the introduction of a new feed in tariff (FiT), which became effective on 1 July 2012. The new FiT will purchase any renewable energy at a fixed price, and the government will provide a FiT of JPY42/kW (US$0.45), which is more than twice that of Germany’s FiT, and three times China’s.
Manufacturing costs are still quite high for Japan’s solar supply chain, with Japanese companies generally unable to compete with their overseas rivals on price. So although Sharp, Kyocera, Panasonic and other local module companies have benefited directly from the FiT, the advantages are very limited and the new FiT policy has aroused more interest in countries such as China than among local Japanese firms.
But while many Chinese companies particularly have been developing strategies for the Japanese market, the reality is that many have found their attempts thwarted. When asked why, many companies say it is much more difficult to trade in Japan than it at first appears, and that one of the biggest problems is certification.
Equipment certification in Japan
In the Japanese market, two certifications are key to entry: J-PEC (from the Japan Photovoltaic Expansion Center); and JET (from the Japan Electrical Safety and Environment Technology Laboratories).
J-PEC is the kite mark for the Japanese residential rooftop solar generating system market. The FiT for residential rooftop PV generating systems can only be gained with this certification, and residential rooftop projects currently account for over 80% of the whole Japanese solar market. It was estimated that the residential PV system would reach 1,256MW at the end of 2012 and continue to grow thereafter.
According to Mr Long, Director of WWB, a residential PV system needs a local legal person or an agency under whose name the system will be listed in J-PEC, and the user can apply for the subsidies after the installation. According to statistics, over 70 companies had acquired the J-PEC certification by April 2012, spreading over several markets including Japan itself, Korea, Taiwan, Mainland China, Germany, US, Singapore and India. Of these companies Chinese firms (both owned-brands and agencies) numbered around 13, and most major companies were included – the likes of Suntech, Canadian Solar, Trina Solar, Hanwha SolarOne, Yingli, JA Solar and others.
JET, meanwhile, is mainly for bigger rooftop systems and ground-mounted projects. To obtain a JET certification, tests relating to modules’ reliability, safety and other aspects need to be conducted.
Again, very few outside companies have received JET certifications. Among those that have are Suntech, Yingli, Trina, LDK and Canadian Solar. Suntech and Canadian Solar entered the Japanese market in the early years before it was on other companies’ radars. Since western markets began to slow down, many module manufacturers have been looking for new markets (see table below). But Japanese certifications have become harder to get, making it more difficult for others to follow Suntech and Canadian Solar’s lead.
Major Chinese module manufacturers in Japan Major Japanese module manufacturers Other module manufacturers in Japan
Canadian Solar Sharp Hanhwa
JA Solar Kyocera LG
Suntech Mitsubishi Electric LS Industrials
Trina Solar Sanyo S-Energy
Yingli Toshiba Getwatt
CSUN Choshu Industry Hyudai Heavy Industries
EGing PV KANEKA Hansol
Chaori Solar Energy Showa-Shell H.R.D.Singaore
Up Solar KIXIL AblyTek
Zhejiang Sunflower Honda Delsolar
Jiangsu Green Paul LS Industrial Systems Motech
Linuo Others Nexpower Technology
AU Optronics Powercom
Phono Solar Gintech
Neo Solar Power
Major module manufacturers in Japan market. Source (partial): Solarbuzz
JET recently recognised several companies’ products, including Sopray Solar and AU Optronics; other companies, including Zhejiang Sunflower, Risen Energy, Hareon Solar and others are still going through the application process, but there have been complaints the process is very slow. The current situation for the companies who have Japanese J-PEC and JET certifications is summarised in the table below.
Besides these companies, Linuo Solar and Phono Solar also have J-PEC, but not JET certification. And as well as modules, inverters are also becoming more difficult to get JET-certified. Compared to the number of inverter companies currently active in the industry globally, only a handful have managed to get JET certification, including SMA, LS Industrial Systems and Taiwan Delta Electronics.
Company name Number of product types certified Company name Number of product certified
Suntech 117 Yingli Green 83
39 Trina Solar 60
Trina Solar 39 Suntech 57
Hanhwa 19 LDK 27
Yingli Green 9 Canadian Solar 21
JA Solar 2 JA Solar In process
CSUN In process
Major Chinese module manufacturers with J-PEC and JET certifications, as of April 2012. Source: Pacific Epoch.
The difficulties of JET
Comparatively, JET accreditation is harder to get than J-PEC. As regards whether JET certification is a must-have, opinion seems divided. A few companies say they could enter Japan market without a JET certificate, but most companies believe JET is a necessity.
In fact, although the Japanese government and community projects require a JET certification, it has not become mandatory yet. But because Japan is becoming a PV hotspot, many analysts are expecting this will change. J-PEC is not mandatory either, but it will be demanded if modules and inverters are looking to apply for subsidies.
For the process of getting a JET certification, “very difficult” is a frequent comment in the industry. Why?
One reason is that in the Japanese market, the key attribute for PV products is not price, but quality and service. Since most modules need to work for over 25 years, Japanese end users have higher requirements for what they purchase – they need a manufacturing company to be able to run for more than 25 years; for this, they have more confidence in local companies.
Meanwhile, Japan is a conservative market. As an officially appointed testing organisation, JET has a very rigorous procedure – the examination time is long and a pass is not guaranteed. According to some industry experts, this situation is related to what JET aims for: Japanese consumers have a strong focus on the safety issues of electronic products and the market is relatively large, therefore JET wants to protect its customers and to a certain extent does not want overseas products to enter Japan, especially from companies who do not have subsidiary branches or agencies. Therefore, many JET applications do not progress after submission.
Companies also say JET requires testing reports for many subtle parts of a PV product – reports for UV tests on backsheets, for waterproofing on the sealing of junction boxes, a third party’s report for waterproofing on cable connectors and many more. Phono Solar, which got its J-PEC certification in April 2012, told PV-Tech that the local certifications in Japan are relatively “more strict”, and Japanese people have a rigorous way of doing things. “Every single step, from very beginning to the very end, is carefully done. They think what they are doing is the best, but in fact, all the testing content and procedure are the same as those international tests, so basically, there is no difference. It is just a nation’s attitude,” a company spokesman says.
Rhett Wang, General Director of Asia Pacific in Interteck’s Commercial & Electrical Energy and Environmental business department, who is familiar with JET certification, adds: “There are some additional requirements that differentiate JET from the [certifying bodies] in other areas, and some detailed requirements do have JET’s uniqueness; for example JET has a harsher understanding for IEC’s [International Electrotechnical Commission] requirements, and its interpreting for PV is more specific than average certification body laboratories, which will lead to extra testing. What’s more, the application documents for JET certification are more complicated than average, therefore if a company doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of the technologies, Japanese languages or application procedures, it is almost impossible to succeed.”
Looking for a way in
Many companies are looking for all possible channels to obtain certifications. Some go through the testing organisations, while others go for agencies or ‘DIY’. Going through a testing organisation is a common and conventional way. Since this is a widespread market and each country has its own standards and regulations, there are many different third-party testing organisations currently serving in PV industry, including TÜV Rheinland, TÜV SUD, TÜV Nord Cert GmbH, Intertek and more
In terms of modules, as of the end of 2011, J-PEC only acknowledges the reports from TÜV (Japan), TÜV Rheinland and TÜV SUD, along with the ones from VDE and Intertek. Products with reports from these organisations could get the Japanese J-PEC certification. For JET certification, Intertek is currently the only third party organisation in China able to operate for JET. According to Rhett Wang from Intertek: “JET included Intertek in its trustable list in 2008, which means our reports could be used to certify the products and therefore, to apply for Japanese governmental subsidies.’
Since the end of 2010, J-PEC and JET certifications have become even harder to get. Japan market is now deemed as a high-end market; therefore, for companies looking to be accepted by this market, their products are treated as high-end products. TÜV Rheinland confirms there are two things needed for getting the certification: testing reports and factory inspections. Factory inspections are done by JET, and the testing reports need to be issued from laboratories recognised by JET.
Due to time reasons, JET’s factory inspection needs careful arrangement; currently, the list of companies waiting for JET’s approve of testing reports is incredibly long, and whether all the companies will get what they want is still in question.
Of course, with all the efforts companies are going to in an attempt to break into Japan, it is expected that the number of JET certifications will increase. But it remains to be seen which ones will succeed