Japan approved on Monday incentives for renewable energy that could unleash billions of dollars in clean-energy investment and help the world’s third-biggest economy shift away from a reliance on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster.
Industry Minister Yukio Edano approved the introduction of feed-in tariffs (FIT), which means higher rates will be paid for renewable energy. The move could expand revenue from renewable generation and related equipment to more than $30 billion by 2016, brokerage CLSA estimates.
The subsidies from July 1 are one of the few certainties in Japan’s energy landscape, where the government has gone back to the drawing board to write a power policy after the Fukushima radiation crisis, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Japan is poised to overtake Germany and Italy to become the world’s second-biggest market for solar power as incentives starting July 1 drive sales for equipment makers from Yingli Green Energy Holdings Co. to Kyocera Corp.
Industry Minister Yukio Edano today may set a premium price for solar electricity that’s about triple what industrial users now pay for conventional power, a ministry official said. That may spur at least $9.6 billion in new installations with 3.2 gigawatts of capacity, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast. The total is about equal to the output of three atomic reactors.
“The tariff is very attractive,” said Mina Sekiguchi, associate partner and head of energy and infrastructure at KPMG in Japan. “The rate reflects the government’s intention to set up many solar power stations very quickly.”
Kansai Electric Power Co. has finished building Japan’s largest solar power plant, a 10,000-kilowatt facility in Osaka Prefecture capable of generating enough electricity to run about 3,000 households.
It has also started testing a system with a cluster of nickel hydrate batteries that can store and supply power in a stable manner, the company said Wednesday.
The cluster, set up in a transformer station near the solar facility in the waterfront area of Sakai, is capable of storing some 100 kwh.
Japan is beginning a shift to solar energy that lacks one ingredient: bank financing.
For lenders like Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. (8316), a commitment to offer loans to solar ventures depends on a law to be passed today that will subsidize renewable energy, part of Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s initiative to cut Japan’s reliance on atomic energy after the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Trading houses Mitsui & Co. and Mitsubishi Corp., insurers Munich Re and Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. (8766), and billionaire Masayoshi Son are among those ready to invest in solar power. For their businesses to become viable, they need utilities to buy electricity generated by the sun, wind and geothermal heat at above-market prices, known as feed-in tariffs.
Since the nuclear crisis began in March, interest in renewable energy has been growing fast. Here, in a 2-page special, Winifred Bird examines the options and weighs the pros and cons
Last year, Japan produced close to one quadrillion watt-hours of electricity — that’s 1 followed by 15 zeros. The vast majority of that — which translates into one billion megawatt hours (MWh) — came from coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants operated by 10 utilities that, only a few months ago, seemed unshakably powerful.
Now, though, Japan’s energy future looks quite different.
Billionaire Masayoshi Son has a track record in taking on monopolies after building a business that opened up the nation’s telecommunications industry. Now he aims to shake up Japan’s power utilities after the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.
Son, the 53-year-old chief executive officer of Softbank Corp., plans to build solar farms to generate electricity with support from at least 33 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. In return, he’s asking for access to transmission networks owned by the 10 regional utilities and an agreement they buy his electricity.
Radiation continues to spew across at least 600 square kilometers (230 square miles) in northeastern Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Japan is considering a plan that would make it compulsory for all new buildings and houses to come fitted with solar panels by 2030, a business daily said Sunday.
The plan, expected to be unveiled at the upcoming G8 Summit in France, aims to show Japan’s resolve to encourage technological innovation and promote the wider use of renewable energy, the Nikkei daily said.
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.