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Japan Is Developing a Technology That Could Upend China’s Dominance in Solar Panels

AJapanese technology start-up is developing a thin-flexible film that could challenge China’s hegemony in the global market for solar panels.

The technology uses minerals that form a crystalline structure called perovskite that can convert light into electricity, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Earlier research on perovskite cells showed they weren’t as efficient as silicon and were vulnerable to moisture. But the technology is vastly improving, allowing for light and flexible solar products that can be wrapped around curved surfaces and generate electricity in low-light conditions – even indoors.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed to make the pervoskite technology commercially viable in two years. The nation has budgeted more than $400 million to help companies ramp up production. The U.S. Department of Energy had a $29 million program in fiscal 2022 for solar technologies including perovskite.

EneCoat Technologies, a startup co-founded by a University of Kyoto professor, plans to start commercial production at the end of this year.

“We want to start off by aiming for places where silicon panels can’t be used,” Tamotsu Horiuchi, EneCoat’s chief technology officer, told the Journal. “We think that there’s a bigger market there.”

One issue with perovskite has been that the crystals can degrade when exposed to moisture. Sekisui Chemical is developing a sealant that will allow perovskite cells to last up to ten years.

The global supply chain for silicon solar panels is more than 80% controlled by Chinese companies, according to the International Energy Agency.

China has invested more than $50 billion in new photovoltaic capacity – 10 times more than Europe − and created more than 300 000 manufacturing jobs since 2011, according to the IEA.

While Japan may have a lead in developing a new solar cell technology, it has lost the solar race before. It initially dominated in conventional solar panels, only to be bested by China, which ramped up production and cut prices with financial assistance from the Chinese government.

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