By MIchael Kanellos
Fumio Ohtsubo, who runs the Panasonic (PC) conglomerate, told Bloomberg that the company will invest $1 billion in green technologies, particularly solar panels, energy storage systems and green technologies for the home.
It's good to be proven right. For the past few years, we've been writing that Japanese conglomerates – and in particular Panasonic – will make a concerted push into green. These companies have the technology and have honed them in their domestic market. Plus, they have the manufacturing footprint.
Panasonic already provides batteries to Toyota for the Prius and will sell lithium-ion batteries to Tesla Motors for the Model S. In Japan, and maybe Europe, the company hopes to get its construction division to produce green homes in a few years. The homes will come complete with energy-efficient appliances and TVs (see a video of its water-saving washing machine here). One idea it is working on is DC-to-AC hybrid wiring for solar homes.
Earlier this year, it started selling home fuel cells that turn methane into hydrogen (for electricity) and heat in conjunction with utility Osaka Gas. And, like a lot of TV manufacturers, it has begun to tout energy efficiency as a selling point in TVs. Some of its plasma TVs consume only 142 watts, explained Pete Fannon, vice president of technology, policy and government regulation at Panasonic.
The company also recently announced plans to release a LED light bulb that costs $40, consumes about 7 watts, and emits as much light as a 60-watt incandescent.
Need more? Panasonic also participates in electronics recycling facilities and is a member of a number of smart grid panels in the U.S. And it's buying Sanyo (OTC:SANYY), which will make it a big player in solar.
Panasonic, though, will also have to battle with the sluggishness that comes with conglomerate-itis. The acquisition, after all, comes as a result of financial losses at Sanyo. A year ago, and the year before that, I interviewed Ohtsubo and other Panasonic executives about plans to bring their green homes to the U.S. There was a definite reticence. Japan, yes, he said, and likely also Europe.
Other Asian conglomerates also seem intent on capitalizing on the movement toward green. Toshiba (OTCPK:TOSBF), a major manufacturer of LEDs and batteries, said it may begin to make acquisitions in LEDs. TSMC (NYSE:TSM), the Taiwanese chipmaker, has been scouting for acquisition targets in solar and LEDs in Silicon Valley. Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) has also begun to ramp up green activities and says it will be the largest solar manufacturer in the world by 2015, a path paved in party by its expertise in TV manufacturing. Some large Asian conglomerates are creating building management systems.