Despite nuclear fears, Japan solar energy sector slow to catch on via Aljazeera

Local officials endorse his plan, in theory. They too want Fukushima to get all its energy from renewables by 2040. Solar panels are already visible on rooftops, in backyards and open spaces, while green enterprises and research institutes are encouraged to locate there. Nor is the prefecture is not alone in its hope to use the tragedy as the catalyst for change. In opinion polls, a majority of Japanese citizens consistently support the goal of abandoning nuclear power while harnessing more renewable energy. Former prime ministers, leading businessmen and a one-time nuclear industry executive are among those urging rapid transformation.

Proponents now argue the national energy landscape of Japan has already been altered irreversibly, but that progress could be expedited. “Now I know that without nuclear energy we can still carry on people’s lives and also the Japanese economy,” former Prime Minister Naoto Kan told Al Jazeera. “There are obstacles but in the long term … there will be more renewable energy.”


The tariff has achieved some of its aims; by April 2015, Japan had added nearly 88 GWs of renewable energy capacity, though only around a fifth was operational. Meanwhile, solar generation contributed to about 10 percent of the peak power supplies in Japan last summer, equivalent to more than 10 nuclear reactors.

However, growth has come almost exclusively in solar. Other renewables have barely budged, due to overly long and stringent permitting processes, according to analysts. And with tariff rates falling, they note solar growth may slow now too.

Furthermore, Japan’s utility companies have begun blocking access to their still-monopolized grids, claiming they are overwhelmed and solar supply is unreliable, which led the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to review and alter aspects of the scheme, creating further uncertainty.


Yoshiro Owando, director-general of the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute (FREA), conceded some solar installation projects approved were “unsound.” The institute, part of the prestigious government-funded National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, is pioneering research into solar power storage to help create more consistent output, as well as developing next generation panels.

But Owando believes the limits to Japan’s electrical grid capacity and intra-regional transmission are the real barriers to growth. “Things are changing,” he added. “Many people are saying the mega-solar period [has] ended.”


Professor Kenichiro Ota, chair of the Green Hydrogen Research Center at Yokohama National University, believes it could actually take 50 years to create a comprehensive renewable energy network. “In that time we need energy resources, so I think partly using nuclear power is very reasonable,” he said, though he doesn’t favor building new reactors.

Ota and Owando, of FREA, believe at most ten reactors can come back online given the new safety requirements, making the government’s nuclear ambitions difficult to meet. Meanwhile, critics claim the renewables target is woefully unambitious. “We should be able to exceed [that],” Owando added. “The goal is lower than world standards.”

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