Japan will displace Germany as the top solar energy market in the world this year, in terms of revenue, according to a report from the research firm IHS. There has been an explosion of investment in renewable energy in Japan, particularly in solar power, which grew by 270 per cent in gigawatts in the first quarter. Japan installed 1.5 gigawatts of solar energy systems in the first quarter, compared to .4 gigawatts in the same period last year. A gigawatt is enough electricity to power 750,000 homes (this number varies widely depending on the source, with some putting it as low as 225,000 homes) the equivalent of the power output of two coal-fired power plants.
This year, the country is expected to install a further $20 billion worth of photovoltaic systems, an increase of 82 per cent over 2012. The average growth in installed solar systems for the rest of the world, the IHS report says, will be just 4 per cent. By the end of 2013, Japan’s installed solar power capacity will be equal to that produced by seven nuclear reactors, according to Fortune magazine.
Germany still has more total photovoltaic units installed, with a capacity of 32,192 megawatts.
Japan has a feed-in-tariff (FIT) system for producers of alternative energy that is not unlike Ontario’s. The system was put in place by the government after the earthquake and nuclear disaster of 2011, following which the decision was made to abandon nuclear power. All but two of the country’s nuclear reactors were shut down permanently. Today, nuclear power accounts for 27 per cent of Japan’s electricity demand. However, public utilities in Japan are required to buy alternative power such as solar and wind at above-market rates.
The FIT rate has been called “ridiculously” high, at more than twice the rate offered by China and Germany. But it has brought in a flood of investment in solar projects. This has driven the growth in solar installation at the extraordinary pace that is taking place there. By the end of 2013, solar capacity is expected to double from 7.4 gigawatts to 15 gigawatts. Renewables already account for about 10 per cent of Japan’s current energy use. Some estimates say that will double by 2020.
Another report on the Japan solar industry says that rooftop-based photovoltaics in Tokyo would support an additional 43.1 gigawatts of solar power, enough electricity to replace the current nuclear supply.