BY MARY BETH HORIAI
It’s easy to criticize, blame, and find fault in anything, but finding solutions, or at least partial ones–that takes some work. There has been a lot of blame and criticism concerning the nuclear industry and the Japanese government (albeit, well deserved). Japan’s safe energy independence is still a long way off. Just one look at the approaching price hikes in energy bills and it’s hard to see any hope in the future.
It’s often said that there is no ‘silver bullet,’ or single solution, to changing a complicated energy system. This transformation from the ‘hard path’ of expensive and destructive fossil fuel and nuclear sources to a less dangerous and more sustainable path will obviously take more than one new technology. A few of those technologies, however, got a boost recently in Japan, and could start a momentum that creates a pathway toward energy independence.
Feed-in tariff (FIT) legislation was approved to allow photovoltaic (PV) solar parks and rooftop modules a generous guaranteed rate (among other renewable energy sources, such as wind and geothermal). So generous was the PV incentive that foreign investors and developers are flocking to Japan for some potential business. Feed-in tariffs have been resisted in some countries like the US, and instituted successfully (according to who you ask) in other countries like Germany, Italy, Canada, and China. The new FIT guarantees a purchase rate of ¥42 per kilowatt hour for 20 years for large-scale solar plants. Power companies must give renewable sources priority and must pay the required FIT. This rate is two times the value offered in Germany, where the industry exploded in just a few years (see video below), and nearly three times the incentive being offered in China. Residential rooftop panels are to receive a slightly lower price, as they will sell back only the excess energy.
The down side is that, if you look at your utility bill, you will notice that you, as a costumer, presently pay only half that amount per watt. Thus, more price increases are in store to cover this cost. In other words, the power companies will be passing the added cost on to the consumers.
The up side is that the price of solar panels will come down even more, making them more affordable for individuals to install on rooftops, thus becoming their own power company. This incentive will most likely prove extremely popular and the government will have to gradually tier down on the price, as was done in Germany and Canada.
Japan already has some of the top PV manufacturers such as Kyocera, Mitsubishi, Sharp, and Sanyo. The country has a history of backing growing industries, which essentially could ‘raise all boats.’ It’s just a matter of which industries the government will continue to support. If Japan can follow Germany’s lead, it is predicted that an increase in PV capacity to 28GW from the present amount of 2GWs by 2020 could be a result of this incentive. Of course it’s not a ‘silver bullet,’ but its a step towards the light.