Grid restrictions could slow Japan’s solar revolution via pv magazine

Despite having grown by more than 7 GW in 2013 and on course to top 8 GW of new capacity this year, Japan’s solar revolution could be derailed as leading utilities begin suspending grid applications for new solar projects.

The Japanese solar sector, worth close to $30 billion in 2013, has enjoyed vast public and political support as the go-to alternative to nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Disaster.

Yet late last month five of the country’s leading utilities began restricting access of new solar plants to their grids, blaming the near-constant expansion of the energy source over the past two years – coupled with the fact that it only delivers to the grid when the sun shines – for causing connection problems.
The actions of Kyushu Electric Power Co.; Shikoku Electric Power Co.; Tohoku Electric Power Co.; Hokkaido Electric Power Co., and Okinawa Electric Power Co. in curtailing grid access for new solar projects could well be the beginning of the end for Japan’s large-scale solar revolution.

Writing on the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF) website, JREF director Mika Ohbayashi revealed that Kyushu has put negotiations for grid access on hold “for several months” while the utility reviewed all access requests. Currently, total demand for grid connection would amount to 12.6 GW if all was approved, Kyushu said. The utility’s minimum daytime demand is just 8 GW, but JREF believe that Kyushu’s sudden action to suspend access is “unreasonable”.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently spoke of his desire to restart nuclear reactors to counter-balance solar’s surge. “We will set the target for clean energy, taking into account a balance and attributes of other energy sources,” the PM told parliament last week. Yet despite solar’s best efforts post-Fukushima, fossil fuels have taken up most of the nuclear slack, accounting for 88% of the energy mix since 2012. Before Fukushima, that figure was just 60%.

Japanese solar, though, is proving more durable than perhaps imagined. As uncertainty begins to bedevil the large-scale, ground-mount sector, hope is rising that the residential-plus-storage PV market can continue to shine.

“This is a sector of Japan’s solar landscape that could really grow,” adds Kaizuka. “Many companies have already begun providing good services in this segment, and it is a sector that now enjoys a government-backed subsidy program.”

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