German politician promotes solar energy

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Japan should promote domestic use of solar power by better utilizing its already advanced photovoltaic power-generating technology, according to a leading European advocate of renewable energy sources.

“Japan places No. 1 in the world in the area of research and development technology” of solar power, but it has yet to become popular due to a lack of policies to bring it to the market, Hermann Scheer, a member of Germany’s Parliament, told The Japan Times.

Scheer, 59, was in Japan to give an opening speech at the ongoing Third World Conference on Photovoltaic Energy Conversion in Osaka, where about 1,500 researchers and energy experts from around the world have gathered to look into technological developments in photovoltaic systems.

Since the implementation of a government initiative in 1974 after an oil crisis the previous year, Japan has succeeded in improving the efficiency of photovoltaic systems that convert light energy into electricity.

Japan produced 128.6 megawatts of power via solar batteries in 2000, or nearly 45 percent of the world’s total, according to the government-affiliated New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

Both the government and solar power-system manufacturers agree they need to raise the efficiency of the equipment and lower the cost of power generation if it is to become more popular.

But Scheer argues it is the other way around, and blames the government for its failure to provide initiatives.

He believes that first having solar power equipment producers enter the market by providing them with favorable conditions would eventually lead to large-scale power generation and make it possible to lower prices.

“No matter how hard researchers work to raise efficiency, it is not going to work if you just leave it to the market,” he said, adding that a practical legal framework is needed to facilitate the market entry of solar power and other renewable energy sources, citing the example of Germany’s Renewable Energy Act.

The act, he said, has two principles to support renewable energy producers.

One guarantees producers of renewable energy, such as solar power, access to the energy market, and the other obliges power companies to buy a certain amount of electricity generated by renewable energy sources at a fixed price.

This greatly encouraged the use of solar power in Germany, he said, noting that while the number of solar power facilities installed in Japan as of 1999 was five times higher than in Germany, his country has since drawn level with Japan and is poised to overtake it.

Since the market mechanisms for conventional energy and renewable energy sources are different, government intervention in the market is important if various renewable energies are to be promoted, he said.

Scheer, known for his role in getting legislation related to alternative clean energy sources enacted, has been advocating a shift to renewable energy sources. He said the world is running out of resources such as fossil fuels, natural gas and uranium — a situation that will ultimately push up the price for conventional energy sources.