Japanese Solar Boom? Toshiba Announces 100-MW Solar PV Plant Near Fukushima

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Japanese electronics industry giants, power utilities and solar energy companies worldwide have been anticipating the introduction of a renewable energy Feed-in Tariff (FiT) that will subsidize the cost of developing solar, wind, marine, geothermal and other renewable energy resources by allowing providers to pass on costs to consumers. They weren’t disappointed, as the Japanese government’s FiT rates — due to go into effect in July — came in higher than expected, particularly in the case of solar.

Toshiba on Wednesday announced it will invest some 30 billion yen ($373.5 million) in building solar photovoltaic (PV) fields in Minami Soma near Fukushima, the disaster-stricken area on Japan’s northeastern coast. At a rated capacity of 100 MW, Toshiba’s solar PV project surpasses the 70-MW solar project announced by Kyocera, IHI Corp., and Mizuho Corporate Bank as the largest planned installation in the country.

 

One of the advantages of solar PV is that it’s modular, scalable nature. In stark contrast to centralized, mass-market coal, nuclear, and natural gas power plants, solar PV plants can be built and brought on-line incrementally, in stages. Toshiba expects to begin building its 100 MW this year, with first power coming on-line in 2014.

Japan to Retake 1st Place among Solar PV Markets?

The Japanese government recently announced a solar FiT of 42 yen (53 cents) per kWh that power utilities will pay from electricity generated by solar energy. Larger than expected, industry observers are saying the solar FiT will propel Japan past Italy and Germany as the world’s largest market for solar PV.

It’s estimated that Japan’s solar FiT will create a $9.6 billion market. The higher-than-expected solar FiT is intended to boost the amount of electricity produced by solar and other renewable energy resources enough to make up for the closure of Japan’s nuclear power plants, which have been shuttered since the Fukushima disaster.

Nuclear power had accounted for 21% of Japan’s electricity. Shutting the plants down has led to worries, at times fanned in the media, that power shortages were imminent. Japan’s turned to imported fossil fuels to make up the shortfall over the short-term, as well as strong energy efficiency efforts, but it’s looking to broaden and diversify its domestic energy base as quickly as possible to avoid the added costs — economic and environmental — of continued reliance on imported fossil fuels.

No doubt, nuclear and fossil fuel industry participants and advocates will fan public fears and pressure politicians to favor conventional energy resources, but Japan would do right by turning to solar and other clean, renewable energy resource development for long-term sustainability and energy security, as would every nation.


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