Solar Frontier Eyes Further Americas Expansion After Gestamp

Solar Frontier K.K., the maker of solar panels using thin-film technology, plans to use its purchase of a pipeline of projects in the U.S. developed by Gestamp Solar as a way to expand in the Americas.

Earlier this year, the Tokyo-based company, a wholly owned unit of Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., acquired 10 solar power projects from Gestamp of Spain. The purchase added 280 megawatts of developments to Solar Frontier’s roster.

“Our task was to figure out how we can re-enter the American market and build up a future business model” after a couple years of focusing on Japan’s market, said Yuichi Kuroda, vice president of international business for Solar Frontier.

Buying Gestamp’s pipeline saved Solar Frontier the time to develop projects from scratch as developers rush to take advantage of a 30 percent investment tax credit for solar projects in the U.S., he said.

For a company like Solar Frontier -- whose limited presence in the U.S. meant it couldn’t take full advantage of the tax credit -- it makes more sense to build projects and sell them to buyers who can enjoy the benefit of the breaks, Kuroda said.

Solar Frontier, which set up a branch in the U.S. in 2011, is targeting the sale of all of Gestamp’s 280 megawatts of solar projects by the end of 2016, Kuroda said.

When Solar Frontier bought the pipeline from Gestamp, it also agreed to hire more than 10 Gestamp workers, Kuroda said. The Spanish-speaking employees will help Solar Frontier with plans in the U.S., Central America and Latin America, he said.

The company also has as much as 100 megawatts of solar-power projects in the U.K. it plans to develop and sell with a partner. Kuroda declined to discuss Solar Frontier’s target for its overseas business.

Solar Frontier, which has the capacity to make 1 gigawatt of solar panels through its factories in Japan, plans to double that by 2018 by adding production capacity outside the country, according to the company. One gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts.

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