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Japanese Solar Energy Industry Soaring

Joshua Hill's picture
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  • Jun 5, 2013

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In the space of two days at the end of May three separate reports were released covering the soaring growth of Japan’s solar industry. Not only can solar replace nuclear power in Japan, but it is also set to become the world’s largest solar revenue market in 2013, thanks at least in part to a surge in installations in Q1.

Japanese solar power plant

Japanese solar power plant

Replacing Nuclear

In the wake of the tragic Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March of 2011 there was renewed public and political support for weaning the country off nuclear power altogether. Currently 27% of Japan’s electricity demand is met by nuclear power, but according to a new report by researchers at the University of Texas, Tokyo could use solar photovoltaic (PV) generation as a “baseload” power.

According to the report, “Potential for rooftop photovoltaics in Tokyo to replace nuclear capacity”, 300 square kilometres of suitable rooftop space in Tokyo could support 43.1 GW of PV to offset the demand currently filled by nuclear, alongside an existing 7.28 GW of pumped hydro storage available.

Strong Q1

Replacing nuclear isn’t just a researchers pipe dream, either, given what we’ve seen in the first quarter of 2013. According to information and analytics provider IHS Inc., a total of 1.5 GW of PV capacity was installed in the first quarter of 2013 in Japan, and that growth is expected to continue through the rest of the year.

That 1.5 GW translates to a growth of 270%, according to the report “The Photovoltaic Market in Japan” – a level of growth that IHS Inc believe sets Japan up to overtake Germany as the world’s largest photovoltaics market in terms of revenue this year.

“Following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 that led to the shutdown of nuclear facilities and a shortage of electricity, Japan has aggressively moved to promote solar energy,” said Sam Wilkinson, solar research manager at IHS. “Japan’s government has introduced a highly attractive feed-in tariff (FIT) to help stimulate solar growth. In contrast, the European market that historically has led global solar demand is slowing as regional market conditions become less attractive. The deceleration in Europe and the implementation of the FIT in Japan are combining to propel the country to the top of the global solar market this year.”

The reality is that high prices in Japan are helping them earn this top ‘revenue’ spot, but nevertheless their growth is undeniable.

“High system prices in Japan have always resulted in the country accounting for a significant proportion of PV system revenues,” Wilkinson said. “Now these high prices are making Japan the world’s No. 1 market—and attracting the attention of global suppliers in the process.”


Japanese Solar Industry Soaring was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook (also free!), follow us on Twitter, or just visit our homepage (yep, free).

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I K's picture
I K on Jun 5, 2013

Makes good sense to install solar in nations that have corresponding demand. Presumably in japan eletricity demand os highest in the summer months when the sun is shining and AC demand is highest

As such a pv plants not just for low value marginal displacement but could allow the closure of peaking plants

This coupled with Japan having one of the worlds highest LNG import costs mean solar on a mkdest scale os a gopd idea. Perhaps as much as 10-15GW. More than that and any addition becomes low value marginal production

I K's picture
I K on Jun 5, 2013

Ironically in that picture it looks like trees were felled to make way for the PV plant as all the land around it is trees.

That is funny

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Jun 5, 2013

It will be interesting to observe how the Japanese economy fares with an exponentially increasing commitment to pay $0.40/kWh over the next two decades for intermittent solar power. Together with a rapidly aging population and the largest sovereign debt in the world, this German-style nuclear-to-solar transition will really stretch “Abenomics” to the max. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 6, 2013

This description of the UT paper gives a bit more detail.  Apparently it was roof-top space in Tokyo that was only adequate for 26% of the electricity they got from nuclear (or enough PV for 7% of their electricity).  So sure, assuming enough pumped-hydro storage, they probably could bull-doze enough wooded areas and convert enough farm-land to make solar power to replace the 27% of their electricity they got from nuclear.  The energy won’t be spread evenly across the seasons as nuclear would, however, so they would probably have to build more fossil fuel plants to supply winter demand.

The real tragedy is that if instead, they keep the existing nukes, they could use the same amount of solar to get rid of all of their coal and peat plants.  Better yet, for even less money, if they limited the solar deployment to 3-5% of total (commercial rooftop only), they could probably double their nuclear share (a bit more than they had previously planned); then they could also get rid of all of their oil based electric production.  They would have cleaner air, better health, a stronger economy, and low cost electricity for their kids and grand kids, slashing CO2 emissions at the same time as well as priming their nuclear industry for increased exports.


Regarding motor loads: it is true that motors (and incandescent lights) require extra current when first starting, and PV panels deliver an almost fixed current based on the available light, irrespective of load.  But this won’t really matter in a large system with thousands or millions of loads; it all averages out.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 6, 2013

My impression is that Japan is not as committed to anti-nuclearism as is Germany.  For one thing, they don’t have the powerful coal industry.  Also they have a lot of very influencial industries that are heavy electricity users, who don’t want prices to rise; there is continuing pressure on the government to get those reactors back on-line.

It makes much more econonomic sense to run the existing reactors until they reach end-of-life, and use domestic solar to replace imported fossil fuels instead. 

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