Toshiba is getting serious about rooftop solar

Major electronics maker Toshiba is getting serious about the rooftop solar game, with plans to resell highly-efficient photovoltaic panels made by Bay Area-based SunPower. The two companies just struck a supply deal for 32 megawatts worth of panels in 2010 — enough to power as many as 32,000 homes.

The contract is significant for two reasons. Not only is it expanding SunPower’s global footprint and broadening its portfolio of projects, it also signals increased interest in solar energy in Japan, where Toshiba hopes to launch its residential solar business on April 1. Delivering technology made by third-party vendors, it aims to corner 10 percent of the domestic market by 2013.

With the country’s government setting ambitious quotas for renewable energy production and establishing a generous feed-in-tariff and subsidies for households installing solar systems, the market is expected to explode in the next several years.

Toshiba’s decision to go with SunPower makes a lot of sense in context. The public company is one of the most formidable makers of rooftop solar systems in the U.S., to be sure, but it’s really set apart from its competitors by the efficiency of its products. The company has achieved efficiency rates as high as 22 percent (meaning 22 percent of the light captured is actually turned into electricity). Average efficiences for other photovoltaic panels hover between 9 to 11 percent.

Japan isn’t exactly well-suited for solar. There is limited empty, flat roof space, and the sun doesn’t shine as intensely as it does in places like Arizona and Latin America. For these reasons, super high-efficiency panels are an obvious choice, even if they are more expensive than some other offerings.

Read more of the story: Toshiba joins Japan’s solar sprint with 32-MW SunPower deal

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