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Asia Report: Revisiting Japan's Solar Demand, and Nuclear Comeback

Japan's solar market continues to race ahead: domestic solar demand is surging, to the point where it's bottlenecked behind expectations. And what's that sound of tiny footsteps approaching?

Japan's domestic solar cell shipments more than tripled from July to September from the same period a year ago, while exports fell by two-thirds, according to the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association. Domestic shipments in the first half of the fiscal year alone (April-September) nearly equal those from the entire previous fiscal year, 3.7 GW to 3.8 GW. Meanwhile, the Okinawa Prefecture is reaching its upper limit in how much solar PV generation it can take on. They're turning to energy storage to help address the problem.

At the other end of the scale, though, mega-solar power plants are producing just a fraction of their authorized output, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is mulling the causes of the delays (lack of funding, developers holding out for more attractive profits, grid interconnection complexities, even failure to secure land rights) and may cancel approvals for some developers who aren't progressing quickly enough.

But there's another reemerging energy interest in Japan these days. Japan quickly shuttered its nuclear fleet following the Fukushima disaster (inspiring other nations to quickly followed their example), leading in part to a renewed embrace of renewable energy options. Even the person who came up with Fukushima's nuclear-supportive tagline turned to solar power. But the recently elected Abe government and METI are reemphasizing nuclear as an important baseload power source with additional safety and cost measures, reversing the previous administration's pledge to get rid of nuclear power by 2040. The problem is that replacing nuclear is leading to bringing more fossil fuels and pollution, or choosing non-baseload renewables with higher costs. "You can't fill the void left by nuclear with renewable energy," said one analyst quoted by Bloomberg. The Japan Renewable Energy Foundation points out, though, that factoring in those safety measures and decommissioning costs hikes the cost of nuclear power, erasing any savings vs. today's pricing.


IN THE NEWS

China Doubling its Renewables Pace: China has installed roughly 36 GW of renewable energy capacity this year through October, roughly two-thirds of that from hydro but also with increases in wind and solar power (and nuclear power which is included in their definition of renewable). That's a bit off the hopes set in January of 49 GW of renewable energy capacity in 2013, though China still expects 10 GW of grid-connected solar power capacity by the end of this year.

Toshiba Eyeing German Residential Rooftops: Toshiba and Gagfah, Germany’s largest real-estate company, are launching a joint venture to add rooftop solar to family apartment buildings in Germany, a move that would square up the Japanese company as an independent power producer (IPP) against local and regional utilities. During nonproductive periods (night and cloudy days) the company says it will purchase power from the wholesale markets for customers at the same rate as power generated by the systems. The Japanese company initially plans to install 3 MW of solar power on 750 apartments, and more than 100 MW by 2016, eventually including batteries and Toshiba's smart grid tech.

Biomass and Cold Storage in India: A biomass energy project inaugurated in the Uttar Pradesh village of Sitapur is said to be the first of its kind, powering not only 140 households but also a cold storage unit for harvested fruits and vegetables. It's an interesting and important application for a nation where 22 percent of agricultural produce is spoiled and wasted, valued at Rs 330 billion. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and two Australian aid and research agencies developed and oversee the project, which will be transferred to community ownership after two years.

Slashing Costs for Fukushima Offshore Wind: The Marubeni-led group behind the 2-MW pilot offshore wind project at Fukushima, which started operations about one month ago, describe their goals to reduce the technology's costs in half for the second phase of their project.

CSP in India: Areva says it has commissioned initial steam operation at its 100-MW concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in Dhursar, Rajasthan state. The project, to be operated by Reliance Power, is expected to ramp to commercial operation in March 2014.

Hydro Tasmania Wants Wind Farm Support: Hydro Tasmania reportedly wants the federal government to help with its proposed $2 billion 600-MW King Island wind farm project, which would be the nation's largest. The project would require an underwater high-voltage cable to connect to the national electricity market in Victoria; a second cable link also is being mulled among politicians.

Tata's $400M Cleantech Investment: Tata Capital and the International Finance Corporation are pledging to jointly invest 25 billion INR (U.S. $401 million) in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in India. Tata Cleantech has participated in group loans for 350 MW of mostly wind projects, and wants to back 2 GW of renewable projects over the next five years.

India REC Demand Doubles: Demand for renewable energy credits in India doubled in November to exceed 300,000 bids, according to data from REConnect Energy Solutions. Demand has been particularly brisk since August when regulators in several states tightened their rules on local distributors who haven't been meeting their targets.

Chinese Hybrid Solar/Hydro Plant Ramps: The 320-MW hydro-solar project near the Longyangxia Dam in Qinghai Province, said to be the largest of its kind in China, has been connected to the grid and commenced trial operations after about nine months of construction, according to media reports. Annual output is projected to be 498 GWh.

CPV Project in China Gets Funding: Focusic New Energy Holding has secured a CNY 200 million (U.S. $32.7 million) loan from the China Development Bank to finance a 20-MW CPV project in Hami, at the edge of the Gobi desert in Xinjiang province. Focusic and Soitec have been working on a 3-MW pilot project since 2011, which is planned to start delivering power to the grid by the end of this year with another phase completed next year.


ON THE HORIZON

Malaysia's 2015 Renewable Energy Target: Malaysia's Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry says it is confident that it can achieve its goal of 5.5 percent of renewable energy in its energy mix by 2015, encompassing solar, small hydro, geothermal, and biogas. Those goals increase to 11 percent by 2020. At the same time, the government separately announced a 15 percent hike in electricity prices for users who consume more than 300 kWh/month, which should spur more energy-saving practices from LEDs to appliances.

Singapore's 10-2020 Renewable Energy Goal: Singapore could meet 10 percent of its power demand by 2020 with renewable energy sources, up from barely 1 percent today, without any government subsidies, according to the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS). The catch: it'll cost S$4 billion from the private sector.


A DEEPER LOOK

Kiribati, The Climate-Change Poster Child: Businessweek has an excellent firsthand account of climate change's potential impact, and one its first dramatic victims: the Republic of Kiribati, a far-flung collection of atolls near the equator in the central Pacific Ocean, which is rapidly in danger of being erased from the earth. The Asia Development Bank (ADB) also has a nice infographic tracking the impact of future climate change on vulnerable island nations in the Pacific.

Australia hits 3 GW of Solar Installations: Australia achieved 3 GW of installed solar power capacity earlier this month, spanning about 1.2 million individual systems. That also makes up nearly 10 percent of the National Electricity Market's (NEM) demand, according to market tracker Sunwiz, which takes a closer look at solar's contributions to -- and reshaping of -- Australia's electricity market.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

November 12-November 29, 2013 Asia Report: Why India's Solar Market Looks Brighter in 2014

October 23-November 11, 2013 Asia Report: China Ascending to Solar PV Pinnacle

October 3-October 2, 2013 Asia Report: Four Reasons Why Solar Can Unseat Coal in India This Decade

September 4-October 2, 2013 Asia Report: Five Reasons Why China's Solar Demand Could Surprise You

August 8-September 3, 2013 Asia Report: What's Driving, And Hampering, India's Wind Market Momentum

Lead image: Japan nuke recycle rock-scissors-paper, via Shutterstock

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