Japan will renew subsidies for residential solar power equipment next month, officials with the country’s ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced this week. The $99.6 million package of incentives pledged for the first quarter of 2009 came not a day too soon for electronics giant and solar manufacturer Sharp Corp.. The company began last week with a move to shut down two factories and cut some 380 jobs in response to sinking demand for LCD panels, its core product. And a few days later, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission slapped Sharp with a cease-and-desist order and a $3 million fine for conspiring to fix prices of LCD modules supplied to Nintendo.
Renewed to help Japan meet its 2050 emissions targets, the subsidies could help rebuild domestic demand for solar panels that has all but disappeared since the government nixed solar subsidies nearly three years ago. According to Reuters, Japan’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting in April includes additional solar subsidies worth ¥20 billion yen. That would be good news for Sharp, which slipped in the race to reign as the top producer of solar cells after the subsidies dried up in early 2006 — and has been hustling to regain (or maintain, depending who you ask) its lead over Germany’s Q-Cells ever since. Last month Sharp said it plans to invest at least ¥100 billion yen ($1.05 billion) in a venture with Italian utility Enel to manufacture thin-film solar cells. Earlier in the year, a vice president in the company’s solar-battery division revealed that Sharp aims to increase its thin-film manufacturing capacity six times over.