26 March 2012
Renewable energies, in particular solar power, have steadily been picking up in Japan for the last few years. Even before the 11 March 2011 disasters, the domestic solar market was experiencing high growth, with more than 1GW of domestic shipments of solar power equipment for residential, industrial, commercial and utility-scale installations in fiscal year 2011; up almost 160% from the year before.
Now, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, with 52 of the 54 nuclear reactors currently offline and the last two scheduled to be shut down in April 2012, the country is faced with the immediate challenge of meeting pressing energy needs, as well as longer term issues regarding its overall energy policy. This has sparked serious discussions regarding the promotion and implementation of renewable energy.
Aided by the restart of the national subsidy program for residential solar power in January 2009, and a feed-in tariff program that was also started in November of the same year, which purchases excess energy at 42 Yen/kWh for installations smaller than 10kW*2, it is expected that up through the end of March 2012 more than one million homes in Japan will have installed solar power. Furthermore, it is anticipated that the number of installations will continue to increase annually by roughly 12% in the coming years.
Still, following the March disasters, the Japanese government quickly moved to support renewable energies passing a revamped feed-in tariff (FiT) bill which is slated to go into effect 1 July, 2012, and will purchase not only excess power, but all power generated by solar installations over 10kW. The purchase price per kilowatt and length of the new FiT are still undecided, but favorable conditions would be certain to further stimulate the solar market and adoption of renewable energies.
Pressing energy needs
With nuclear power making up roughly 30% of Japan’s total power supply prior to the disasters, and reactors going offline one after another, much of the country has been asked to reduce its power consumption by 10-15% during the hot summer and cold winter months when air-conditioning and heating appliances put stress on the grid’s capacity. Furthermore, while the country has thus far been successful in voluntarily decreasing its energy consumption, the threat of rolling blackouts or mandated peak energy cuts has remained present.
Under these conditions, there is a growing trend toward energy self-sufficiency on a local and individual level. The number of applications for residential-use solar subsidies ballooned to 215,178 in the period from April 2011 to January 2012, up 140% from the previous year. Following the March disasters, solar companies have also come up with new solutions to meet these energy needs. One such example is Kyocera’s all-in-one energy management system (EMS) which combines a solar power generating system with a lithium-ion battery storage unit. This technology not only provides back-up energy in the event of a blackout or natural disaster, but can also help lower consumption from the grid during peak hours by efficiently controlling energy use from solar power, the battery unit and the grid.
Schematic of energy use flow using Kyocera’s solar power generating system & energy management system with Nichicon’s power storage unit
To promote this trend, the Japanese government also agreed to a maximum three-year subsidy program, worth \21 billion, for use of stationary lithium-ion battery energy storage systems starting in fiscal year 2012.
Moreover, businesses and public facilities alike are ramping up installation of solar power on convenience stores, shopping malls, factories, public schools and government buildings in a large-scale national movement to reduce energy dependency on the grid and to contribute to environmental preservation.
“Eco Shopping Mall” in Japan with approximately 1MW of solar power installed
Long-term energy supply
Other ways in which the country is contributing to meeting its energy supply needs and increasing alternative energy use is through the building of large-scale “mega-solar” plants and through an industry-wide push to include solar installations on newly constructed homes.
With the 10 regional utility power companies in the country already pledging to build 30 mega-solar power plants by 2020, a number of which are already in operation. There will be an additional 140MW of renewable energy supply available. Furthermore, private investors are also working to use abandoned farmland across the country to build solar power plants. Clearing one hurdle toward that goal, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry is currently planning legislative changes to laws that restrict diversion of farmland in order to fast-track such energy projects. It is estimated that if all such abandoned land was utilized for solar power production, upward of 50GW could be generated.
Kyushu Electric Power Co., Inc.’s Omuta Mega-Solar Power Plant
(Fukuoka Pref., Japan)
Currently, market demand, combined with collaborations between solar manufacturers and residential building companies, has been growing stronger. These partnerships help to create larger economies of scale, which decreases prices and helps put solar power generating systems on a larger number of new homes built in Japan. By 2020, it is believed that 70% of new homes will come equipped with solar power, thus allowing more and more people to generate their own clean energy.
In the near future the majority of new homes will come equipped with solar power
In the year since the devastating earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese energy sector has been in a state of upheaval. It is still too early to see what the long term changes will be, but it has already created a real push towards increasing renewable energy use and a concerted effort from many sectors to focus on the three areas of energy conservation, energy creation, and energy storage. These are trends that seem to be here to stay.
About the Author
Hidemichi Tonari is Marketing Director and is based in the Kyoto, Japan office of Kyocera Solar Corporation.