TOKYO Aug 29 (Reuters) - Sales of solar cells in Japan rose 72.2 percent from a year earlier to 445.3 megawatts in April-June, industry data showed, helped by a jump in demand for non-residential power generation ahead of the launch of a new renewable power subsidy scheme.
In July, Japan introduced a feed-in tariff (FIT) programme under which regional power utilities buy power from renewable energy suppliers at pre-set premiums for up to 20 years.
The move, aimed at helping the world's third-biggest economy shift away from reliance on nuclear power after last year's Fukushima disaster, could unleash billions of dollars in clean-energy investment.
Imported solar cells accounted for 29.6 percent of total domestic sales, up from 15.5 percent a year earlier and the highest since the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association started gathering such detailed data in 2004.
Year-on-year growth in domestic sales peaked at 191.6 percent in October-December 2009, totalling 190.7 MW, as the government launched a pilot FIT scheme covering surplus solar power from households only in November 2009.
The launch of the comprehensive FIT scheme in July has attracted companies that generate power from solar modules for sale to regional utilities. Sales to such companies surged to 29.8 MW in the April-June quarter, four times higher than a year earlier, the data showed.
"Some solar power plants started commercial operations in time for the launch of the FIT scheme in July. The data this time partly reflects shipments to these plants," an association official said.
The association revised its list of suppliers while compiling data for the April-June quarter as several Japanese companies stopped supplying solar modules and Panasonic Corp took over Sanyo Electric's solar module production.
Foreign suppliers now account for a quarter of the 32 companies polled, compared with 18 percent previously, reflecting the growing share of imports.
The companies polled include major Japanese solar module makers Sharp Corp, Kyocera Corp, Panasonic Corp and Mitsubishi Electric Corp, and overseas makers such as Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd.