Japan’s new solar era takes shape

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In post-Fukushima Japan, energy has been in the spotlight. New data and analysis this week is showing signs of a solar boom, that may hold opportunities both for the domestic and international photovoltaics industry.

Reuters reported yesterday that $2 billion in new investments into renewables have been made since the government launched a revamped FIT scheme in July. The news agency says 33,695 applications have been made by companies and households to sell renewable energy under the scheme, according to data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

Decisively, solar is dominating the applications to METI, accounting for three-quarters of the registered capacity. Reuters reports that 567 MW of new capacity has been registered with METI in only two months.

Meanwhile, the ruling Japanese Democratic Party has introduced a proposal for a new energy policy, which would reduce the amount of nuclear power in the country to zero, by the broad date of the 2030s, according to a report by the Denki Shimbun. While the debate over the energy plan remains fierce, and opinions divided, the zero-nuclear future would result in a boom for the solar industry. Reuters reports that the government has predicted expected investment into renewables to grow to $640 billion, by 2030.

GTM Research has also released a report into opportunities for the photovoltaic industry in Japan, predicting a shift away from residential installations – which had previously dominated the Japanese market – towards commercial and utility-scale applications through 2016. It’s high-growth predictions for the Japanese market show that it could reach 7 GW by 2016.

The Japanese market has long been a difficult market to crack for foreign manufacturers, but this shift towards larger-scale installations could provide more room for them, the GTM report authors write. The new report is called: "The Japan PV Market, 2012-2016: A New Era of Solar or the Beginning of a Boom-Bust Cycle?" It does offer some warning, however, that high FIT cuts and a lack of available pricing poses a risk to the market.

In recent weeks, pv magazine has been covering the move of major Japanese corporations, formerly not involved in the renewable industry, into photovoltaic development. Reuters points to telecommunications giant Softbank’s plans to develop 10 utility-scale plants with a total capacity of 182.2 MW. Since the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear reactor disaster, Softbank’s charismatic and influential president Masayoshi Son has been calling for renewable energy development and the breaking up of regional electricity monopolies.

Reuters quotes Son as saying that more capacity than that initially announced may be added. "We are hearing the voice of the public calling for a future without nuclear power and may respond by adding more capacity than planned," said Son.