Japan installs 1.82 GW of PV capacity in Q2

Data compiled by the Japanese Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) has revealed that Japan installed 1.82 GW of solar PV capacity between April 1st and June 30th, as published this week by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

Commercial project installations during this period were particularly strong, connecting to the grid 1.416 GW compared to 410 MW of residential solar PV, representing a complete shift in the balance of national PV focus. Between July 1st 2012 and March 31st 2013, residential PV installations outstripped commercial installations, adding 969 MW and 704 MW respectively.

Overall since July 2012 – the first year of the Japanese feed-in-tariff (FIT) scheme – the country added 3.7 GW of newly installed renewable power capacity, of which 3.67 GW, or about 90%, was made up of solar PV.

Before the introduction of the FIT program, Japan had installed 4.7 GW of residential PV projects, and about 900 MW of commercial PV projects.

Vast PV pipeline

Despite the huge success of solar PV installations in the first year of the Japanese FIT program, ANRE’s statistics show that at the end of June 2013 there were still 17.8 GW of approved PV projects that had not been commissioned. 17.6 GW of them are classified as "non-residential" projects.

Local press has cited grid interconnection issues as one of the main barriers facing new renewable power projects. However, in September METI launched an investigation into what is causing the delays. The results of their survey are expected after October 18.

Meanwhile, a recent report by the Energy Trend division of the Taiwan-based global market research group TrendForce says Japan’s "zero nuclear power” state will force the country to accelerate the development of renewable energy with demand from solar energy expected to drastically increase. The total amount of new solar PV installations, Energy Trend says, may reach 7 GW by the end of 2013.

Energy Trend also reports that Japan’s base-load electricity mainly used to focus on hydro and nuclear power. Coal and gas power belonged to medium-load electricity, while oil and other energies were categorised in peak-load electricity.

However, the Fukushima nuclear disaster changed the situation dramatically. Japan has no nuclear reactors working right now, and has had only two of its 50 reactors running for the past year. The power shortage caused by the decline of nuclear power has been mostly filled by thermal power generation. The top ten power companies have significantly increased the usage of thermal power generation from 59.05% in 2010 to 89.82% in 2012, which caused Japan to import large quantities of coal, oil, natural gas and other fuels, Energy Trend says.

Energy Trend’s data is consistent with a separate ‘energy supply and demand’ report also published by METI last week, which finds fossil fuel consumption has increased "due to the effect of the increase in thermal energy power generation as an alternative to nuclear energy."

Energy Trend says that power companies have also continued to purchase more power generated from renewable sources. Japan’s top ten power companies have purchased much more power generated from solar energy since 2008. "The annual growth rate increased from 9.25% in 2008 to 45.89% in 2011," said the report.

"It will take at least half a year for nuclear power plants to meet the security check request and re-activation safety requirements, and it would be difficult to project the time needed to get the reactivation approval from the local government." Thus, solar PV demand in the Japanese market is unlikely to abate.

A significant warning too is that, according to METI’s ‘energy supply and demand’ report, due to the increase in fossil fuel consumption energy oriented carbon dioxide emissions compared with before the Fukushima accident have increased by 7.4%.

Japan urgently needs to develop its renewable energies portfolio to face both power shortage and the increase in climate change-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Critics express doubts

Not everyone believes the Japanese government is serious about renewable power development. Kevin Meyerson, a renewable energy blogger and American expat living in Japan for decades, has repeatedly accused the Japanese government of holding back the release of renewable power information.

Meyerson writes: "During the prior DPJ administration these reports were released within two or three weeks of the end of each month." Since the current LDP administration took over in January 2013, the reports have been delayed by months at a time. "Based on the old administration’s timeline, the July and August reports should have been released by now, and the September report should be released within a week or two. I have a strong suspicion that the numbers are being delayed due to politics of the current pro-nuclear administration," he adds.

Meyerson has previously petitioned the government for the release of the renewable power installation figures, arguing the government is attempting to hide the progress of renewable energies as part of a strategy to bring back online the nation’s nuclear power plants.

juwi Shizen Energy completes third solar park in Japan

In the third joint venture between Germany’s juwi group and Shizen Energy Inc. of Japan, a 1.1 MW PV plant has been installed in Ozu on Kyushu Island.

The plant is comprised of 4,480 solar modules feeding 1,375,000 kWh of clean energy into the local grid – enough to power 380 local households.

"Japan is a fantastic market for solar energy, and our Japanese team has built great trust with local authorities, land owners and investors," said juwi’s regional director for Asia Pacific, Amiram Roth-Deblon, adding: "juwi Shizen Energy has a well filled project pipeline and will make a huge contribution to Japan’s transition towards a sustainable economy."