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.
Japan asked the World Trade Organization on Wednesday to form a legal panel to decide whether Canadian provincial backing for solar and wind energy projects gives an unfair advantage to domestic equipment makers.
Japan has given up direct attempts to resolve a spat over an Ontario scheme that guarantees prices for renewable energy as long as it is generated with Canadian-made equipment, Japan’s ambassador to the WTO said in a letter to the chairman of the WTO’s disputes division.
"Consultations failed to resolve the dispute. As a result, Japan respectfully requests that a panel be established to examine this matter," Ambassador Yoichi Otabe wrote.
Construction is under way on two solar power plants in Kawasaki that will cover seven times the area of Tokyo Dome.
The solar plants, being built on a combined 34 hectares in Ukishima and Ogishima, are part of the Mega Solar Power Generation Project carried out jointly by the city of Kawasaki and the Tokyo Electric Power Co.
The plants will use about 100,000 solar panels and are expected to produce about 20 million/kWh of electricity annually, equivalent to the annual usage of about 5,900 households.
Commercial operation of the Ukishima plant is set to begin in August and the Ogishima plant in December this year.
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.