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Published on June 22nd, 2012 | by Thomas Gerke


Japan vs Gertalia — A Solar Country Comparison

June 22nd, 2012 by  

This short post will compare two countries to showcase what is possible with solar energy technology. The two countries in question are Japan and the fictitious nation of “Gertalia.”

Japan is of course a pioneer in solar technology. Perhaps the country will even become a rising star of solar energy once again after the Japanese government’s decision to adopt an aggressive Feed-in Tariff law modeled after the German example that will go into force on July 1st. There is little doubt that this decision will boost solar power installations tremendously, but the question is how much and how fast?

“Gertalia” is obviously an imaginary country which is the result of squashing Germany and Italy together, something the earth has been working on for millions of years by pushing the tectonic plates in that direction.

Why compare Japan and “Gertalia”?

Because they “almost” have the same population, a similar-sized modern economy with a strong and diverse manufacturing base, and… they even look “slightly” similar on the map (needs a little imagination).

As you can see, both “countries” also consume about the same amount of electricity every year. They also have a very similar portion of conventional hydroelectric power production in their power generation mix. But when it comes to electricity generation from other renewable sources, they are worlds apart. In fact, in 2011, “Gertalia” produced more electricity from solar energy than Japan did from all non-hydro renewable sources!

A Different Look at Numer One, Two, & Three

Last year, Germany, Italy and Japan were the three leading countries when it comes to total photovoltaic power capacity. While being in third place doesn’t sound too bad, the Japan–“Gertalia” comparison paints a very clear picture, especially considering the fact that Japan was number one until 2004, even ahead of Germany by 30 MW!

Moving Forward

Japan certainly has a long way to catch up, but the aggressive FiT should be more than helpful. Considering that predictions of renewable energy growth tend to underestimate what’s possible, we might all be in for a surprise as to how fast Japan will crank up solar installations, especially when there is so much untapped renewable energy potential.

As for Gertalia, the near future is a bit uncertain. Earlier this year, the German and Italian governments proposed deep cuts to solar FiTs. On the other hand, both governments also faced resistance and had to paddle back on their cuts recently. While we might not see an additional 16.8 GW in Gertalia this year, it could still end up being in the territory of 10 GW.

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About the Author

is a close observer of the scientific, political and economic energy debate in Germany and around the globe. Inspired by the life's work of the renewable energy advocate Hermann Scheer, Thomas focuses on spreading information that showcase the possibilities & opportunities of a 100% renewable energy system. Though technology is key for this energy shift, he also looks at the socio-economic benefits and the political, as well as structural barriers.

  • Paul Gipe

    Very well done comparison.

    Paul Gipe

  • Italy and Japan appear roughly comparable in terms of insolation, with solar being a good match for its peak electricity demand which occurs on hot summer days.  While Japan has less living space per person than other rich nations, earthquake risk limits most building to two stories, which means there is still a considerable amount of roof space available, despite Japan being quite cramped by Australian standards.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Thanks.  I suffer from cherry-picked data when it comes to Japan and Italy.  

      I’ve been in the Narita airport a few times.  In the winter when it was overcast and gloomy.

      I’ve never been in Italy.  But I’ve seen  Fellini movies and Sophia Loren wiping sweat off her “assets”, so my impression is “always hot and sunny”….     ;o)

      • Southern Italy is very sunny, but the bulk of the population lives in the north.  I have figure of an average of about 4 kilowatts-hours of sunshine per square metre on a flat panel at optimum angle in Tokyo and 4.3 for Rome, but I can’t but sure these figures are accurate.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Interesting take.

    Got the energy to compare ‘solar potential’ and ‘other renewable potential’ for the two?

    Seems to me that Southern Gertalia should have a huge advantage over Southern Japan when it come to year-round solar output.  Perhaps southern Japan has as much winter sunlight.

    Perhaps Japan needs to morph into Japapines.

    • ThomasGerke

      Actually Japan has alot more renewable energy potential than Gertalia. This is in particular true for the solar potential. 

      Geographically Japan streches from Northern Italy (Hokaido) to Northern Africa/Tunesia (Kyushu). Okinawa is actually slightly south of the Canary Islands. 
      So solar irradiation is way above Gertalia levels… but the weather is certainly different from Italy… Cold winds from Siberia north of the japanese alps during winter and typhoons from the pacific during the summer months. On the other hand Japan encompasses 13 seperate weather zones on a landmass the size of Germany… which balances variable local wind & solar production out quite nicly. 

  • jburt56

    You forgot Switzerland!!

    • Ross

      That would have increased the difference in population size. 

    • ThomasGerke

      Switzerland got squashed OR it broke of the european continent and became an island nation in the strangest geological event in the planets history. 🙂

      Actually some parts of Bavaria are also gone… Germany & Italy actually overlap each other abit 😉

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