Japan Looks to Renewables in Wake of Nuclear Disaster

By Rich Bowden

All eyes are on the Land of the Rising Sun as the country, still reeling from the effects of the March 11 Fukushima nuclear disaster, looks to build a renewable energy future to reshape its energy needs.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan (soon to be former Prime Minister Naoto Kan) has, in the time-honoured Japanese way, offered his resignation in the wake of criticism of his handling of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, but not before he shepherds through vital legislation through the Diet (Parliament).

One of these is the renewable energy bill, a comprehensive piece of legislation which passed through the Diet’s Lower House earlier this week and, at the time of writing, is being brought before the Upper House for consideration.

The renewable energy legislation is definitely a radical shift in energy policy possibly unprecedented in recent Japanese history. It aims to increase clean, renewable energy from the current nine percent to 20 percent by the 2020s. The prime minister is expected to hand in his resignation once the renewable legislation passes.

For a detailed summary of the announcement of the details of the new move to renewables at an OECD forum in Paris, see thisMay 27 JapanTimesreport.

From a solar energy perspective the changes are indeed trailblazing. Accounting, with other renewable energy resources such as wind, for a meagre one percent of Japan’s energy, the government has stated it will be looking at reducing the costs of generating solar power to a third of current levels by 2020, cutting this further to one-sixth by 2030.

The prime minister told the OECD Japan would make the development of renewable energy a key undertaking.

“We will mobilize all our resources to break the barrier to practical use due to such aspects as technology and costs, and we will elevate renewable energy to one of society’s core energy sources,” he said.

An important component of the legislation will be based on the government’s expressed desire for feed-in tariffs to stimulate renewable capacity.

According to a 23 August Business Green report, the feed-in tariff will guarantee “…renewable energy generators above market rates for the power they produce.”

“The new subsidy regime, which is modelled on successful feed-in tariff schemes in Europe, will come into effect from July 2012 and force utilities to purchase electricity generated by solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and small-scale hydro electric plants at set rates for up to 20 years,” the report continues.

This is one way to stimulate the renewable energy market and two other news reports have indicated that the famously innovative Japanese private sector is ready to latch on to any government solar initiatives

Firstly from the UK’s The Independent comes a report that Japanese firm Mitsubishi Chemical Corp has developed a superbly innovative technique — spray-on solar cells. The breakthrough means cells can be applied to buildings, vehicles and even clothing in a similar way as paint is applied, according to the report, making the places where harvesting of the sun now “almost limitless.”

Secondly on a more infrastructure front comes news from Kyodo News that industrial giants Mitsui Chemicals Inc., Toshiba Corp. and Mitsui & Co are combining resources to build the largest solar power generation plant in the country. The 20 billion yen plant to be constructed in Tahara, Aichi Prefecture will generate an expected 50,000 kilowatts from 2013.

Combined with recent announcements from near neighbour China that it intends to increase its focus on a renewable future, does this mean that North Asia is truly the engine room of global solar innovation?

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