Solar installations booming in Japan

Thanks in part to a strong national Solar Feed-in Tariff, over 1 million Japanese homes are expected to have gone solar as of March 2012, and the number of installations is projected to grow by approximately 12% annually over the next few years, according to a report by Kyocera Solar, one of Japan’s leading solar panel manufacturers. Commercial-scale solar installations are also experiencing strong growth, and sizeable leaps in Japan’s installed solar PV capacity are expected as more strong support schemes for larger solar systems come into effect.

Even before the 11 March earthquake-tsunami ensuing nuclear power plant crisis in 2011, which prompted a huge surge in public support for renewable energy sources to reduce its reliance on nuclear power to meet its electricity needs, Japan had a strong support scheme in place for residential solar power sector. The original Solar Feed-in Tariff scheme purchased excess electricity from grid-connected, small-scale (<10 kilowatts) solar PV systems at a rate of 42 yen (approximately 50c) per kilowatt-hour.

The Japanese government is also moving to offer stronger support for larger-scale systems, with changes to the Feed-in Tariff slated to come into effect from 1 July 2012 that will pay solar systems 10 kilowatts or greater in capacity for not just excess, but for every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. Combined, these incentives for large-scale and small-scale systems are expected to drive massive uptake of solar PV–the Kyocera report indicates that by 2020, 70% of new-build homes will come equipped with solar power.

The sort of ‘gross’ model of Solar Feed-in Tariff (where  a customer is paid for each kilowatt-hour of solar power produced) soon to come into effect for larger systems in Japan existed relatively briefly in Australia, under the NSW Labour government, before it was abruptly and drastically scaled back, switched to a ‘net’ program (in which customers are paid only for solar power exported to the grid), and eventually cancelled altogether when the Liberal government came into power. (Current Feed-in Tariff rates in NSW are non-mandatory, and are set by individual electricity retailers.)

The report also highlights the growing trend towards ‘energy self-sufficiency’ in Japan, with some households installing high-tech systems that could significantly reduce a home or business’s need to purchase electricity from the grid or to save excess solar power in batteries for subsequent export back to the grid. Such systems would facilitate savings on home power bills, as well as a mitigated need for centralised electricity generation plants (such as nuclear) to be built, thereby being a boon to the electricity grid and as well as electricity users.

Source: Cleantechnica

© 2012 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

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James Martin II