High cost of a solar power plan

Taragi, Kumamoto

Does Michael Hoffman’s July 15 Big in Japan article, “Aging village shows the way with switch to solar,” really demonstrate the viability of solar power? Let’s do the math:

An array of 216 solar panels cost ¥17 million and generates 40,000 kilowatt hours/year — enough power for 12 households. The article says this is a town of “aging farmers,” so we could assume that 3,400 kWh/year of electricity consumption per household is low, but let’s assume it is average. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, there were 50.93 million households in Japan as of 2010. Therefore, 4.4 million of these arrays would be needed to satisfy the electricity needs of every household in Japan, at a cost of ¥74.8 trillion. To put this cost in perspective, consider that, according to the Finance Ministry, Japan’s total tax revenue in 2011 was ¥92.4 trillion.

The ¥74.8 trillion cost would satisfy the electricity needs of households only — not businesses, factories or public infrastructure. Nor would it include the cost of maintaining the 950 million solar panels that would be built, or of integrating the panels into the existing distribution grid. There are also logistic challenges such as the fact that (1) sunlight is unpredictable and power storage technology has not yet mitigated this problem, and (2) suitable land to place solar panels is scarce. People living in nonoptimal areas would face a dilemma: to spend more money to build more solar panels to offset low efficiency, or spend more on the infrastructure to bring in electricity from panels located in optimal areas.

The true moral of the article gets only an oblique reference by Hoffman: The people of this community did what was best for them, independent of any government coercion.

For “aging farmers” with low electricity needs, a conversion to solar may be best for them, but their success should not be used to forge a hammer that would be brought down to enforce a Soviet-style “national electricity plan” that dictates by what means electricity will be generated, and who shall buy it.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

joseph jaworski