Will Solar Power Save Japan?

Will Solar Power Save Japan?

“Japan aims to install solar panels on the roofs of 10 million houses” Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan said at the 50th anniversary ceremony of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Although there is argument about the feasibility of the enormous number of installations, his words reflect the growing Japanese opinion that the nation should rely more on solar and other renewable energies.  A recent newspaper poll by Asahi Shimbun found 64 percent of respondents believed renewable energies such as solar and wind power would replace nuclear power in the future.

Rolling Blackouts Are Over but Energy Conservation Continues

With efforts to increase power supply capacities at electric power companies and widespread energy conservation efforts, rolling blackouts have been discontinued since early April.  However, the improved supply-demand balance requires ongoing energy conservation by industries and households especially during summer when power demand increases for air conditioning.  METI calls for 15% energy conservation and industries are responding:

  • Toyota, Nissan and other auto companies will take two days off during the work week this summer, instead of the usual weekend holiday, to conserve energy on weekdays.
  • Tokyo Disney Resort is going to invest about $37.5 million (3 billion yen) to expand its in-house power generation with solar panels and natural gas cogeneration systems.
  • Toshiba headquarters and branch offices in the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s service area will extend summer vacation periods to three weeks.
  • Tokyo Electron Yamanashi will install more than 10,000 solar panels (2 MW) on the roofs of its facilities and parking areas.

Japan to Increase Renewable Energy Share to 20% by 2020s

Kan’s speech at the OECD ceremony unveiled the fundamental changes in the basic national energy plan and “10 million solar rooftops” was just a part of it.  He said “We must nurture the two new pillars of renewable energy and energy-efficiency, in addition to the two pillars to date of nuclear power and fossil fuels”. As to renewable energy, he committed to “engage in drastic technological innovation in order to increase the share of renewable energy in total electric power supply to at least go beyond 20 percent by the 2020s”. To achieve this, as a first step, “we aim to lower the cost of solar power generation to one third of its current level by 2020 and to one sixth by 2030”.

Japanese local governments are also looking at photovoltaics seriously.  This clean energy source is included in recovery plans by the three prefectures in northeast Japan that impacted by the earthquake and tsunami most severely.

  • Iwate prefecture announced its long-term recovery plan in June that calls for faster adoption of renewable energies such as solar and wind power.
  • Miyagi prefecture also announced its recovery plan that includes the “Eco Town” project where all houses equipped with solar panels and batteries are connected by the smart grid.
  • Yuhei Sato, Governor of Fukushima Prefecture, said Fukushima would set out to be a center of excellence for renewable energies, and the prefectural economy structure premised on nuclear plants should be reconsidered. (Sankei News)

Japan Feed-in Tariff Legislation Remains in Limbo

Japan’s existing feed-in tariff scheme only covers surplus photovoltaic electricity from house owners and small businesses (for complete information, see METI website: http://www.meti.go.jp/english/policy/energy_environment/renewable/photovoltaic.html). To increase the renewable energy share in the nation’s new energy portfolio, it is desirable to strengthen the scheme to mandate electric power companies to buy electricity at higher rates from any renewable sources including large-scale (mega) solar projects.

Nevertheless, a government-drafted renewable energy bill* has been left on the Diet shelf since March 11 when Kan’s Cabinet approved it just a few hours before the earthquake and tsumani attacks. One of the reasons for the delay is resulting higher electricity bills.

(* Bill on Special Measures Concerning Procurement of Renewable Energy Sourced Electricity by Electric Utilities)

METI estimates a 150 to 200 yen (approx. $2) increase in the monthly electricity bill for an average household after ten years of the scheme introduction. Although the Asahi Shimbun’s poll found 65 percent of respondents were willing to accept higher electricity rates to promote renewable energies, this could be a significant financial burden for heavy electricity consumers in industries in addition to the impacts by the disaster. Japanese photovoltaics stakeholders have a keen interest in the enactment of this bill, which may determine the Japan’s market growth at least for the near future.

A Big Move by a Telecom Firm and Local Governments

Softbank, a Japanese telecom firm, and 19 prefectural governors announced on May 25 that they were set to establish a natural energy council by early July to build about ten solar power plants each with some 20 MW supply capacity that will cover 5,000 households. The number of prefectures planning to participate increased to 34 as of June 16.

“By converting just 20% of the 540,000 hectares in unused farmland nationwide to mega solar facilities would add 50 million KW electricity supply--that is almost equivalent to Tokyo Electric Power Company’s capacity in the coming summer,” Softbank President Masayoshi Son said to the reporters.

The first council meeting is scheduled for July 13 in Akita prefecture.  At the meeting, announcement of further information on mega solar construction plans including the locations, schedules and capacities is expected. If the project moves forward, Softbank will likely adopt solar panels produced by Sharp Corp., with which it has dealings in mobile phones, according to AFP news.

Solar Needs Smart Grid in Place

The expected change in Japanese energy portfolio with more renewable energy will require adoption of smart grids to balance the electricity supply and demand. Japan was not the top runner in terms of smart grid introduction, but after the Great East Japan Disaster, analysts foresee acceleration of the introduction.  On the other hand, most of experimental smart meter installations have been done by electric power companies that have little investing power now, and this may delay the smart meter diffusion.

Kyodo News reported on May 31 “The government is planning to launch deliberations on measures to thoroughly reform Japan’s electric power industry by 2020, such as separating electricity generation and transmission, and reviewing the regional monopolies of power companies.”  This aims to promote of both growth of renewable energies and adoption of smart grids.

Our Industry behind the Scenes

These energy policy changes discussed above require technologies that can be enabled by solutions SEMI members will provide.  The illustration cited below from the Texas Instruments website describes how smart technologies will be used everywhere in a smart house.  Will solar power save Japan? – perhaps it is true and SEMI members will be behind the scenes enabling the green power recovery.
PV House
                      Source: Texas Instruments

PVJapan 2011 Connects You with Japan’s Photovoltaics Market

The ultimate gateway to the Japanese solar and smart grid markets awaits your exhibit and participation. This most comprehensive photovoltaics event in Japan had over 45,000 visitors last year and more is expected this year.

The show date shifted from summer when energy demands will peak to December 5 to 7, the same week with SEMICON Japan. This co-location will enable you to extend your connection in both semiconductor and solar industries in a single week. Booth space still available, however space is limited, so submit your application quickly. For more information, please contact SEMI Japan at pvj@semi.org or visit http://www.pvjapan.org. 

June 30, 2011