Fraunhofer ISE signs renewable energy MoU with Fukushima


Three years after being struck by an unprecedented nuclear accident, the Japanese Prefecture of Fukushima has this week signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy (ISE) in an effort to position itself as Japan’s leading hub for renewable energy research.

Terms of the MoU include the creation of the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute – a new research center due to open in April. The center’s opening marks a dramatic about-turn in Fukushima’s – and Japan’s – attitude towards renewable energy and its gradual shift away from nuclear power.

As the largest solar energy research institute in Europe, Fraunhofer ISE’s involvement and cooperation with Fukushima is intended to bring advanced R&D techniques to the Prefecture, with the aim being to promote the benefits of renewable energy systems across the country, as well as helping the local economy and industrial sector regain its competitiveness.

"Applied research is a key factor in the technological development of companies, especially in the field of renewable energy," said Fukushima vice governor, Fumio Murata. "It will assist in revitalizing and enhancing the industrial competitiveness in the Fukushima area."

The MoU was signed on February 12 at Fraunhofer ISE’s Freiburg headquarters, and lays out plans to engage in scientific exchanges and joint workshops and symposiums – in both Germany and Japan.

"We are delighted to intensify our cooperation with Japan," said Fraunhofer ISE’s director, Professor Eicke R. Weber. "Solar technologies will be a main pillar of the future energy system, which will be sustainable and carbon-free. To this end, we must cooperate in research at an international level."

Fraunhofer ISE has already formed the Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutes GA-SERI with the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology AIST, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The signing of the MoU comes just days after Tokyo – Japan’s capital city – elected as governor Yoichi Masuzoe, who is a committed supporter of nuclear power programs. The governor of Tokyo wields huge power in Japan (second only to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – a solar supporter but somebody who is not averse to nuclear power) and has full control of the city’s immense budget.

However, commentators are confident that the so-called ‘Abenomics’ package – a pro-renewable energy subsidy program – will prove to be a nationwide success, particularly for the country’s surging solar power industry.