Japan’s Tipping Point Part 3: Solar Photovoltaic Panels

This is my third blog related to my book, Japan’s Tipping Point: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World, you can find the first here and the second here.  This will be the first of several posts on specific forms of renewable energy in Japan.  I’ll start with solar photovoltaic panels, to be followed soon by another blog on solar hot water.

Until July 1, 2012, photovoltaic panels will be the only form of renewable energy that receive a federal subsidy and feed-in tariff, so they offer the most hopeful outlook in Japan.  Yet even here, Japanese policy has been inconsistent.  In 2005, Japanese firms dominated the global solar panel industry, producing about half of the world’s supply.  That year, the federal government stopped subsidizing PV panels, and the Japanese market subsequently dwindled, just as Germany, China and the United States were coming on strong.  By 2009, when the subsidy was belatedly renewed, Japan had fallen from prominence in the field, supplying about a tenth of the world’s panels.  In a list of the top 15 solar panel manufacturers in the world, published in 2010, Japan showed up in the tenth and eleventh spots.

The good news is that PV panels are getting cheaper for everyone because of mass production, with the price cut nearly in half over the past two years.  And Masaaki Kameda of the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association told me that the Japanese residential market is booming, with over a gigawatt of PV power installed on rooftops in fiscal 2010.  Nonetheless, only 40 percent of the panels produced in Japan are used in-country.  The Japanese target for domestic PV installations is 28 gigawatts by 2020 and 58 gigawatts by 2030, which would then account for about 10 percent of the country’s electricity.  Photovoltaic currently supplies about four gigawatts, less than half a percent of the country’s electricity.

There are a few mega-solar installations in Japan.  But billionaire Masayoshi Son, 53, the CEO of Softbank, Japan’s telecommunications/media giant, has offered to help pay for ten massive solar arrays, each capable of producing 20 megawatts, which would cost $1 billion.  (He has been somewhat vague, alternatively talking about blanketing fallow rice paddies with PV panels.)  But the electric monopolies would have to agree to buy and distribute the power, and they have thus far refused to comment on Son’s proposal.

By the way, I just got the proof for the paperback version pf Japan’s Tipping Point: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World, which should be on Amazon soon for $10.  The ebook is $2.99.

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Mark Pendergrast is an independent scholar and author of books and articles. His books include JAPAN'S TIPPING POINT: Crucial Choices in the Post-Fukushima World (2011); INSIDE THE OUTBREAKS: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service (2010); UNCOMMON GROUNDS: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World (2010, 2d edition); MIRROR MIRROR: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection (2003); FOR GOD, COUNTRY AND COCA-COLA: The Definitive History of the World's Most Famous Soft Drink and the Company That Makes It (2000, 2d edition); VICTIMS OF MEMORY: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives (1996, 2d edition). He is also the author of JACK AND THE BEAN SOUP, a funny, irreverent children's book. For information on his books and to contact him, see www.markpendergrast.com. Pendergrast lives in Colchester, Vermont, USA.

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