Japanese Solar Electric Output

Subsidies set to spread home solar power use

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The restoration of a government subsidy scheme to encourage ordinary households to install solar power generation systems is expected to bring about a sharp increase in homes being fit with photovoltaic panels.

Manufacturers struggling in the global downturn also are planning to take advantage of increased demand as they look to improve business results.

However, solar power generation is susceptible to the whims of weather, and an increase in the use of the green technology also could see instabilities in power supply.

This has led public and private entities to step up efforts to develop technologies that would offset this potential drawback.

The restoration of the state subsidy scheme in January has led to many people no longer seeing the installation of a home solar power system as a lofty dream. The government terminated its previous subsidy scheme in fiscal 2005.

This renewed interest was evident at a home exhibition held over the weekend at Tokyo Big Sight in Ariake, Tokyo, when many people visited an area displaying solar power systems.

According to the Japan Photovoltaic Expansion Center, an organization that receives inquiries regarding the state subsidy scheme, 22,501 applications have been made since Jan. 13--when the government restarted the subsidies--and the end of March. This figure is about half the 50,000 or so systems installed in ordinary homes in fiscal 2007.

One industry estimate predicts there could be 92,000 installations in fiscal 2009.

A solar power generation system installed at an average home produces about 3.5 kilowatts of electricity. Installation costs about 2.5 million yen, but this initial investment can be reduced to about 1.8 million yen with central government subsidies and assistance from local municipality subsidy schemes.

Major electrical equipment manufacturers that make solar panels are taking steps to boost production so as not to miss out on the increased demand stemming from the return of state subsidies.

Kyocera Corp. has constructed a new factory in Yasu, Shiga Prefecture, and will double its output of solar panels; Sharp Corp. is building a new plant in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture; and Sanyo Electric Co. also will expand its factory in Kaizuka, Osaka Prefecture.


Instability fears

Domestic solar power generation output at the end of 2007 was 1.919 million kilowatts.

A new government economic growth strategy includes a plan to increase photovoltaic generation 20-fold by 2020.

Power companies also are expected to launch a system in fiscal 2010 that would raise the price of purchasing surplus solar-generated electricity from the present 24 yen or so per kilowatt-hour to about 50 yen.

But should sales of solar-generated electricity increase, it is feared the electricity supply from power companies could become intermittent due to the clean energy's dependency on weather conditions.

Both the public and private sectors are making great efforts to tap the potential of solar power. They are researching a next-generation power network that uses cells such as sodium-sulfur batteries to store and discharge solar generated power. This would allow the adjustment of supply and demand between regions with excess and insufficient power.

(Apr. 28, 2009)