In just the first 8 months of fiscal year 2013, 4.58 GW of solar photovoltaics were added in Japan, continuing the solar power surge taking place there. Government incentives have primarily been driving it — mainly a favorable feed-in tariff scheme. This scheme was implemented in 2009, which was just five years ago but seems much longer in terms of the amount of change that has taken place in Japan’s renewable energy expansion.
In a document titled ‘Design of the Japanese Feed-in-tariff scheme’ the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry explained: “It is estimated that the increase in the amount of electricity through the introduction will be 32 to 35 million kW by the introduction of the system. Furthermore, by promoting technological development and the use of heat from renewable energy as well as reviewing relevant regulations, METI aims to make the ratio of renewable energy in primary energy supply 10% by 2020.”
The Ministry collects data about solar installations and their costs to factor into the adjustments they make in the FIT scheme in order to continue expanding solar growth.
Some have said Japan’s interest in solar power was sparked entirely by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. In the late 1990s, an increase in solar installations began, making the country one of the world leaders in solar. In 2002, a very large solar structure called the Solar Ark was built with 5,000 solar panels in Gifu Prefecture. For its time, it was one of the largest solar structures in the world, and won awards for design.
Of course, the Fukushima incident crystallized the existing interest in renewables, and has accelerated the growth of new solar. Japan may turn out to be the no.1 solar nation in the world in 2013, a position that has been held for some time by Germany, a country that has been very aggressively developing renewable energy sources.
There has been some concern that Fukushima might still be leaking radiation. The anxiety associated with old nuclear power plants potentially failing appears to be causing more people to be open-minded about the expansion of renewables. Climate change seems to be less of a motivator because the effects have been more gradual.