Post-Fukushima, Japan Turns to Renewables

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted August 22, 2012

Still smarting from Fukushima, Japan is turning to renewable energy in a big way. A recent survey from the Kyodo News discovered that more than a third of 109 Japanese companies are confident that renewable energy can take the place of nuclear power in the nation’s distribution of power resources.

35 firms posited solar or wind power as the best viable alternative, while 10 opted for thermal power.

When discussing how much of a role atomic power should play in the national mix by 2030, 13 companies chose 15 percent, while 11 opted for 20 to 25 percent.

The survey included several major Japanese firms, such as Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM), Nippon Steel Corp. (TYO: 5401), and Rakuten Inc (PINK: RKUNF).

This July, Japan passed one of the world’s strongest feed-in tariffs (FITs), which offers 40 yen (50 cents) per kilowatt-hour of purchased power. That’s almost thrice the nation’s average price of electricity.

Solar cells and panels costs are, of course, extremely low. The combination is explosive in terms of growth potential for the solar sector in Japan.

Certainly, the handsome FIT rates will benefit the rooftop solar sector. The real developments, however, are going to be in utility-scale installations. Currently, those account for just 20 percent of Japan’s solar power. That puts it at the lowest of any major solar market worldwide.

However, SB Energy is building a 111 megawatt facility on the island of Hokkaido, and several Toshiba (PINK: TOSBF) installations are coming up in Fukushima itself (totaling 100 megawatts).

Kyocera Corporation (NYSE: KYO) also announced plans for a 70 megawatt farm on the island of Kyushu. This last project can power up to 22,000 households, and it is just such projects that will really enable Japan to transition away from nuclear and into a heavily renewable power-based society.

Overall, investment in Japan’s renewable energy sector this year, according to a Bloomberg report, is estimated to hit $17.1 billion. And that’s just the start. Although FITs are delicate and Japan will surely monitor the scene closely, it’s safe to say that Japan’s solar industry will experience rapid and significant growth in the near future.

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