Japan closes last nuclear plant, clearing the way for solar PV

The last remaining operational nuclear power plant in Japan has been shut down for routine maintenance and testing, leaving the country nuclear-free for the first time in over 40 years. The country has a total of 50 nuclear reactors, and was once the world’s 3rd largest user nuclear power. Facing power shortages of up to 20% this summer, Japan will have to resort to electricity demand reduction and the possibility of rolling blackouts. Rooftop, distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) generation is already growing quickly in Japan, and can be expected to continue on the upward trajectory thanks to the county’s nation-wide Solar Feed-in Tariff and growing anti-nuclear sentiments.

Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Tokyo to celebrate the closure, according to an article in the Guardian. Although nuclear plants are slated to start going back online in the coming months following local approval, strong public opposition following last March’s earthquake, tsunami, and ensuing nuclear crisis means that Japan faces the possibility facing its energy future sans nuclear power. Trade minister Yukio Edano and 3 other ministers have been trying to win public support for bringing the plants back online to help meet demand during hot summer months, when muggy weather drives higher air conditioning use. The previous summer was spent in an environment of a kind of electricity austerity, with various areas of the country being required to reduce their electricity consumption at different times in order to ensure that the remaining generation sources were able to meet demand.

Pressure for the government to support the growth of renewable energy has grown since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor crisis. Japan is being watched closely by the solar PV industry and renewable energy advocates around the world, who are looking to the country as a potential future hotspot for solar power, as well as an experiment in how alternative energy and energy distribution technologies can be deployed on a large scale to meet the power needs of an industrialised, developed nation. A relatively high national feed-in tariff of 42 yen (about AUD $0.51) has been put in place by the government to speed the adoption of distributed generation systems such as rooftop PV.

At present, solar PV in Japan is more expensive than virtually anywhere else in the world–although there are hopes that the feed-in tariff will help to change this. Additionally, the government is working with the solar industry to find ways to curtail the cost. Jesse Pichel, of stock analysts Jeffries, wrote, “On the hells of the new FIT [feed-in tariff], a new master energy plan is being revised in Japan, and it may target up to 100GW of cumulative PV capacity by 2030, from 4.7GW installed at the end of 2011.” The growing presence of overseas manufactures is also likely to foster greater competition in the domestic market.

Top image by AP, via the Guardian

© 2012 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

James Martin II