Japan’s dramatic shift to PV

In what are remarkable figures, exports of photovoltaic modules remained relatively flat, while those consumed in Japan have increased from 311.54 megawatts (MW) in the third quarter (Q3) of 2010, to 406.33 MW in Q3 2011. Additionally, while in previous years quarterly growth of domestic module sales has been modest and inconsistent, in 2011, sales grew from 258.61 MW in Q1, to 347.7 MW in Q2 and over 400 MW in the Q3.

Andrew DeWit from Tokyo’s Rikkyo University told pv magazine that he’s not surprised at all by the rapid growth in domestic photovoltaic sales. "In fact, if the figures extended to an even more recent period [Q4 2011 and Q1 2012] then I think we would see even more impressive developments."

The JPEA figures also reveal that most of the module sales have been made to supply the residential market. In Q3 2011, of the 406.33 MW of modules sold domestically, 331.06 MW went to supply residential installations. This, DeWit said, is more surprising. "Just about every day you read an article in the Japanese press on a mega-solar project. The focus on what is happening is not on the more distributed end."

Since the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown in March 2011 and the radioactive contamination scares that followed, the Japanese public has become increasingly cognoscente of issues surrounding power supply and renewable energy. DeWit believes that additionally, issues like security of supply and a revamped feed-in tariff (FIT) have attracted an enormous amount of attention to photovoltaics in the country.

"It has encouraged local governments in particular to ramp up their subsidy programs, to foster the further diffusion of solar in local communities. The local governments learned last year that you can’t rely on centralized energy supply and transmission and they’ve also become very keen to exploit the local business opportunities that have been expanded as a result of the FIT as well as the concerns about nuclear."

DeWit reported that all but two of Japan’s nuclear reactors have been shut down and, while debate rages over the closure of the final plant, he is confident that it also will close in the coming months. "You couldn’t have foreseen a year ago that this would happen. This country may go through the summer, probably without any nuclear capacity, a totally unthinkable scenario. So concerns about power are driving people’s decisions and driving local governments’ purchasing and subsidy decisions."