Japan set to top solar power market

Value to reach $19.8 billion this year, surpassing Germany: report

Kyodo

Japan is expected to become the world’s largest solar energy market this year, with the installation of new solar power systems more than doubling capacity, a recent report by a U.S. research firm says.

The domestic solar power market is forecast to reach $19.8 billion (¥1.91 trillion) in 2013, surpassing Germany, which was the biggest market from 2009 to 2012, according to the report by IHS Inc.

An estimated 5.3 gigawatts of generation capacity will be added this year, supplying output roughly equivalent to five nuclear reactors.

While that is exceeded by the 6.8 gigawatts of new solar power systems projected in China this year, the price of the equipment is expected to make Japan the largest market in terms of value, the report said.

The use of solar power in Japan has accelerated since the so-called feed-in tariff scheme for renewable energy was introduced in July 2012 to help offset the loss of nuclear power caused by the repercussions of the Fukushima disaster, which has led to nearly all of the nation’s 50 reactors to be idled over nuclear safety concerns.

In the first quarter alone, a total of 1.5 gigawatts worth of solar power systems were installed, up from 0.4 gigawatt in the same period last year. Installations in Europe declined 34 percent due partly to falling prices for solar electricity sales conducted by power firms, IHS said.

While global suppliers in the solar power industry are being drawn to Japan’s market, domestic firms continue to dominate the market for residential systems, which account for nearly 40 percent of all demand in the country, because consumers are showing a strong preference for domestic brands, IHS said.

Two other research entities, including Bloomberg New Energy Finance, also project that Japan’s solar power market will become the world’s largest this year.

Hokkaido grid hits limit

Bloomberg

Developers of solar projects in Hokkaido are being forced to rethink their plans after the prefecture’s sole utility received applications for large-scale solar plants that would exceed the grid’s capacity.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. officials have met with applicants to explain that it can’t add any more solar to its grid if projects are 2 megawatts or larger, said Satoshi Takada, a spokesman for the utility.

By the end of March, applications for grid connections totaled 1,568 megawatts for plants of 2 megawatts or larger, according to an April 17 statement from the utility, which said it had capacity for only 400 megawatts.

The case highlights growing concern about transmitting power from renewable sources to the nation’s grid as it expands solar installations following the July 2012 introduction of above-market rates for clean energy.

As one response, the Hokkaido utility plans to install a storage battery system at its Minami Hayakita substation in the southern town of Abira to stabilize the flow of solar power onto the grid, according to Takada.

Hokkaido is attracting the biggest share of Japan’s solar projects because it offers large patches of inexpensive land, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a statement April 17.

  • Starviking

    Why is there no information to enable readers to find the solar energy report? The name of the US research firm would be useful, as would the report title.

  • Sam Gilman

    Oh dear. A PR press release from the solar industry gets recycled as journalism. It’s sadly par for the course. Solar has some kind of weird grip over journalists.

    An estimated 5.3 gigawatts of generation capacity will be added this year, supplying output roughly equivalent to five nuclear reactors.

    Err….No. That’s not how solar works. Capacity is very rarely met, for obvious reasons (it’s called nighttime), and full output is difficult for the grid to handle.

    The typical “capacity factor” of a solar panel array is between 10 and 15 percent. That is, the 5.3 gigawatts of capacity will amount to 530-800MW of actual output, which is about one nuclear power station.

    What’s worse is that it’s unpredictable, and therefore requires back-up (usually in the form of gas) in order to maintain smooth supply. Because the gas stations have to hang around to supply this back-up, the per unit cost of providing that gas goes up. The solar power itself is being paid for through a very, very, very high tariff (to encourage investment).

    To make matters even worse, the unpredictability of solar puts a serious strain on the grid. Electricity is generated as we use it. When we introduce a method of generation that can fluctuate massively simply when the clouds clear up, it puts a strain on the viability of the system. There are “grid penetration limits” to intermittent power sources like solar and wind. As an illustration, note that the article says:

    Hokkaido is attracting the biggest share of Japan’s solar projects because it offers large patches of inexpensive land, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a statement April 17.

    This is interesting because in Hokkaido they’re limiting power generation solar now because of the strain on the grid. To quote the article:

    The local utility in April vowed to limit its electricity purchases from solar power plants to 400,000 kilowatts, noting its heavy purchases from solar power plants where output depends on weather conditions could destabilize electricity supply.

    • Rockne O’Bannon

      Gee Sam. Everybody with wind and solar uses the “nameplate capacity” to compare apples and oranges. Of course nuclear plants are great because they can be run 24/7. But if we are comparing solar to solar, as much of this article does, the “capacity” can be quoted in kW or MW. That is no biggie. In fact, the article is careful to refer to the “market value” which is set to surpass Germany’s. It is a business article, not a “solar” article.

      The rest of your comment is pretty tired. Japan is investing in a lot of gas turbine generation to match load demand. Cloud cover prediction is not as “unpredictable” as you seem to think. Satellites and algorithms can handle it. Germany can do it, but Japan can’t? Try saying that without getting a laugh. And your assertion of 10-15% output is counter-truthful. I own several arrays, and even on cloudy days, I am getting about 30% out of them. On sunny days, 80-90% is not difficult. I have broken 100% on many occasions. Oh yes. My panels produce BEYOND their rated capacity. It happens. Most community grids can handle rooftop solar well, and substations can be built for MEGASOLAR projects. This is not rocket science.

      And let’s please not forget that solar gives energy at times of PEAK demand. On hot summer days, if you own an air conditioner and no solar array, you ARE part of the problem. Solar owners ARE part of the solution. Let’s be clear about that.

      “Strain on the grid” is a misnomer. Hokkaido authorities believe that they can handle 400 MW, but have bids for about three times that, as I recall. It is not because of any physical strain, it is because of their capacity, isolation, and frankly, their financial condition. It is certainly not permanent. They are taking measures to cope with that, which involve storage and substations, as I alluded above. If Hokkaido were not so isolated, they could take the output and sell it. “A surplus of electricity” cannot reasonably be called a general problem in Japan, as you seem to be attempting.

      Anyway, you are repeating things you have heard, which are wrong to a greater or lesser degree. My actual experiences, opinions, and expectations make me very very bullish on PV solar in Japan.

      • Sam Gilman

        Rockne, the explicit comparison is made in the article between nuclear power and solar. I fail to see what’s wrong with me saying the comparison made is false, nor that it is the kind of false comparison that is constantly made by solar power advocates.

        10-15% is not “counter-truthful”; it’s a typical capacity factor for solar. That doesn’t mean panels cannot produce above 10-15% capacity at any one particular time. Of course there are peaks and troughs (and solar advocates love passing off the peaks as averages). Capacity factor means, averaged out over time, including when the sun definitely doesn’t shine (aka nighttime) as well as when it shines weakly, that’s what you get. Incidentally, typical nuclear power capacity factor is not, as you imply, 100%, but around 90% globally (they are not always running on full) and historically, 70% in Japan.

        You actually contradict yourself with regard to the problems of grid penetration. You claim that community grids can handle solar perfectly well, and then say that Hokkaido’s problem is that it is isolated and cannot pass on the electricity. Places like Denmark and Germany can create headlines on how much intermittent energy they produce, but in the details you find that they can only do this through integration with transnational grids.

        I’m sure you’re doing very well out of your solar panels, but you need to separate out you benefiting from having subsidies to back up your investment on the land that you own on the one hand, and the challenges of getting solar power to make a decent contribution to our electricity needs overall. It’s important to look at these challenges honestly rather than, as the Japan Times likes to do, use solar as a stick with which to beat nuclear.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        It is not a false comparison. People understand that solar does not work at night. Maybe people, like you, do not understand that solar is likely to give peak output during periods of peak demand. That is a feature, not a bug.

        “capacity factor”. Great. A vague concept. Renewables use the nameplate capacity, which is an estimation of peak output. Of course there are plenty of reasons nuclear does not go to 100%, but it certainly can. Again, you are just muddying the waters by noting that energy generation is not always maximal. People know that.

        There is no contradiction. Over time, Hokkaido will want that power. You say it is impossible. No it isn’t. They can’t make contracts now for various reasons. They are taking measures to increase storage, widen their grid, and find new demand. If they don’t deregulation will make new competitors for them. If you see some kind of contradiction it is because you don’t think the world will ever change. LIve a little longer. That will clear up.

        I did not accept subsidies. I am not anti-nuclear. In fact, I think renewables combine very well with nuclear for a better energy future. Put your own stick away and try to be objective in seeing advantages of one generation method vs. others.

        If you want to get hot about something, why not consider that a distributed model of power generation can avoid situations where people in Tokyo tell people in Fukushima that they have to accept risks just to give others cheap power that they can waste on neon. If nothing else, I won’t have mobs of people protesting my arrays, and I can support my community instead of sending my money to some utility in Tokyo. In fact, I’m good. I won’t ever have to pay for electricity again, and you can’t beat that with a stick.

      • Sam Gilman

        Rockne, I’m not sure if you’re trolling or are actually a couple of apples short of a picnic.

        Capacity factor is not a “vague concept”. It’s a really basic idea in comparing energy generation methods. As an equation it looks like this:

        Capacity factor = Actual output/Maximum output, as measured over an extended period (typically a year).

        Or in simple words, what percentage of maximum capacity will we actually get out of this or that form of electricity generation. For wind and solar the biggest influence is the presence of wind and sunlight (including the placement of the installation). For non-intermittents such as coal, gas, nuclear and oil, a big factor is down time for maintenance and repairs. Wind has a much better capacity factor than solar.

        You’re wrong to claim the idea doesn’t matter. When this article says “An estimated 5.3 gigawatts of generation capacity will be added this year, supplying output roughly equivalent to five nuclear reactors”, it’s simply wrong by a factor of around six or more.

        You claim that, of course, people know that the sun doesn’t always shine, but solar advocates, including yourself, seem to have a very difficult time including that fact that in your calculations. Why bother telling me how much your solar installation can get? Why not tell us what it does get, in terms of output over a year? That’s what matters.

        Actually, the main reason I think you’re a few apples short of a picnic is that you claim not to be taking subsidies, yet think “In a country where people pay 30 yen and up per kWh solar has grid parity now.” That 30 yen and up per KWh is the FIT (feed in tariff), the subsidized price for solar, not for electricity in general. Electricity from non-renewable sources (including nuclear) comes much cheaper than that. For an owner of a solar panel installation, how did that pass you by?

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        Capacity factor has little to do with this anyway. I have already noted that reactors function 24/7. I know that. Nuclear is great. Fine. But your fixation on Capacity factor ignores that the capacity being added by solar comes during periods of peak demand. The absurd reduction of everything to a capacity factor on your part ignores the TIMING of that addition to capacity.

        If you want to agree to disagree, which is all I will allow in this argument, let’s say that solar can’t supply its 5.3 gigawatts of power at night. Which we all know anyway, right? What you will have to accept is that solar WILL supply its power when the sun shines, thereby solving peak problems for a lot of utilities.

        You claim that I “have problems accepting” this or that. No. Really. I don’t. I am realistic. I actually operate solar arrays. I have done the math. I am not too interested in giving you my personal data, but I did tell about my experiences a little in prior posts. Believing that ALL solar advocates don’t know when the sun shines is really reaching, don’t you think? I expect you to sink to ad hominem next.

        And I was right. You start ad hominem. You lose. You assume I must be stupid because you are too stupid to read what I wrote. You have to assume that if you are wrong, someone else must be stupid. It says a lot about you and colors all of your arguments. It is too bad. You can win arguments and educate people about nuclear energy without going out of your way to alienate people.

        If you think I am a kook because I say people pay 30 yen and up, look at your electricity bill. I don’t know where YOU live, but where I live in Japan, I am PAYING over 30 yen per kWh for my electricity. That is not a FIT. Rates will vary around Japan, but that is what I am paying. And rates are going up. My utility has had its nuclear plants shut down. It has raised its rates double digits this year, but even before that, it has been charging me that much. It did not pass me by because I read my electric bill and know every line item.

        You need to apologize, Sam.

      • Starviking

        I’m chipping in on the side of Capacity Factor, as it is important to know how much energy a given power generation system can reliably produce.

        I’ve gotten tired of articles which claim that one 2MW wind turbine can power 600 homes – maybe on a good day, and certainly not responsive. It gives people a false idea that whatever the renewable source, it can be slotted in in place of a nuclear or fossil fuel plant. It distorts the debate, instead of people asking how reliable renewable energy (+ NPPs) can be achieved on a national level we get the same old zero-thought statements from public figures from the media up to the political classes.
        From my perspective home solar combined with EVs or Plug-in Hybrids is something to aim for. It could have a big impact on the CO2 emitted in daily transportation.
        Large solar and wind are fine, but ideally should be paired with storage dams for dealing with long outages, and battery farms to cover the short time it takes for storage dams to respond to an outage.
        NPPs should be expanded too, and a 4th Gen design capable of using nuclear waste as fuel should be a part of that.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        I don’t think there is a person in this world who believes that solar power is generated at night. I also don’t think anyone objects to the use of “words”, so you don’t have to support it. Still, people must understand that distorting the vocabulary distorts “the debate”.

        Solar generates power mostly when people need it. Power companies already sell power dirt cheap at night. You want to tell me we need to be concerned about Capacity Factors when few enough people use power at night? Just keeping the coal fires stoked meets that base load. Why is that an issue? The issue is meeting peak loads, which solar is great for. The dogmatic use of Capacity Factor forces us to center upon generation of power 24/7 instead of on peak loads. That might seem “fair”, but it is not realistic.

        Capacity Factor only muddies the waters and makes renewables seem worse than they really are. Sam Gilman uses the concept to make his claims that solar can never replace nuclear and coal. If solar were to have a better Capacity Factor, I am sure that Sam Gilman’s vocabulary and ours would have to change again to accommodate prevailing biases.

        Besides, if one says something like “solar only has a capacity factor of 15%”, then what happens when the solar generation is linked to storage or hydrogen gas generation? Then we have to make up a new category for that. Creating such confusion about new technologies can only help people who like the way things are. Personally, I think it is morally reprehensible to push poisons on other people just so I can watch Game of Thrones on my big screen TV, so I don’t like things the way they are.

        I really did not think people had such stone-age conceptions of what solar can and cannot do. Frankly I am surprised. The world is progressing rapidly to integration of renewables. How can Japan proceed quickly when even the JT posting “cognoscenti” can’t keep up?

      • Starviking

        Rockne,

        I am aware of the general power production curve for Solar, but many people are not. I have in the past have seen people write about “low-light solar panels”* as if they could produce significant power at night.

        Capacity factor is useful when comparing how much energy a given power production method can generate over a long period of time. It’s useful because many news reports just give the nameplate power output for any given power plant, and this can give a false sense of parity to the general public – thinking that, for example, 2000MW of solar plant can replace a 2GW nuclear plant.

        If the solar in your example is linked to storage, then it can certainly produce energy 24/7 – but it can not produce more energy than it recieves from the Sun.

        For example, if a 2GW NPP and a 2GW Solar Photo Voltaic are compared, over the course of a year, with capacity factors of 90% and 15% respectively we get the following total energy production:

        NPP: 2GW x 0.9 x 8760 hours in a year

        = 15768 Gigawatt hours of energy.

        SPV: 2GW x 0.15 x 8760 hours in a year

        = 2628 Gigawatt hours of energy.
        So we get Solar producing one sixth of the energy of an NPP, despite appearing equal on a nameplate basis.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        Well, first of all, Capacity factor is not useful if you pay attention to WHEN or WHERE the power is needed, which I think I have said about five times now.

        Let’s turn the old argument on its head. You say that Capacity factor helps a discussion of “powering 550 homes” let’s say. Well, a nuclear or hydro plant is not going to be in the middle of 550 homes, but solar panels could be. Simply quoting Capacity factor is not going to incorporate transmission issues, line losses, transformer losses, and various other externalities. Capacity factor will not reflect that solar provides power during the day, when people need it. Capacity factor might be useful to compare a nuke and a coal plant, but it misses most of the advantages of distributed renewables. Let’s realistically include “avoiding radiation hysteria” as an advantage of solar, shall we?

        I agree with your second paragraph. I suspect, however, that you and Sam make three mistakes: 1. You simply assume that people are stupid enough to believe that solar works at night. 2. You simply assume that some changes, such as storage or better load matching, can’t solve these problems eventually. 3) Sam has already admitted that a 2GW nuclear plant almost never produces 2GW anyway, so every mode of generation is just using a “nameplate capacity” anyway.

        In your numerical example, you even assume that nuclear is producing close to its “nameplate capacity.” 90%? I think you are missing the fact that they are frequently barely powered up, undergoing maintenance or inspection, completely shut down, etc. See? Consciously or unconsciously, you make the tacit assumption that “solar doesn’t deliver” and “nuclear delivers.” The truth is that neither is going to give you full capacity all the time. The other truth is that solar gives you power during the day, when you need it.

        I said it before. I understand the concept of capacity factor. I don’t think it is useful for application to all generation modes, or for realistic comparison among them. It is vaguely illustrative, but sharply biased. To the degree it is flexible, it ignores important ads and disads of different modes of generation.

        Finally, let’s get real. Japan won’t be building any more nuclear plants for the next 10 years. It would be hard pressed to do it in 20. There is just no way it is going to happen. “Capacity factor or not”, if it takes 3.0GW of solar plus storage to “equal” 2.0GW of nuclear, then that is what it is going to take. If it takes double that, it is still the no-muss, no-fuss route to Japan’s energy future. By then, people will be thinking in terms of “generation, storage, and load-matching.” They will throw this biased “capacity factor” jargon on the ash heap and move on.

      • Starviking

        Thanks for the reply. I have actually come across one person on the net who thought that solar panels worked at night – they were confused by low-light panels which are used in high-latitude area: they track the sun to get the most power out.

        As for storage, I think that it, and load-balancing by smart grids are over sold at the moment. If they work as advertised, that would be great – but I think there are a lot of technical challenges is the storage area, and suspect the same with smart grids.

        As for the capacity factor of nuclear plants, if they are idled, it is effectively zero. However, technically they have a high factor,and in planning that has to count.

      • Starviking

        My first reply got truncated.

        So, I think capacity factor is a good guide for planning. However, for owners of solar panels, monthly and yearly energy produced would be a good metric – especially if they were using batteries for storage. In that case they would be off-grid, to some extent or other, and capacity factor would not be applicable to them.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        Just to add light to a subject that has created some heat, let me report the following:

        To avoid bias, I approached a neighbor at a community event today and asked her for HER data for electricity. Mine happen to be similar, but let’s use hers.

        First of all, this person pays exactly 28.66 yen per kWh. But wait, there’s more. She also pays a fuel surcharge of 1.16 yen per kWh. PLUS she pays a surcharge to support renewable energy, which is 0.388 per kWh.

        Add that up and tell me if it breaks 30 yen. Keep in mind that it includes NO FIXED FEES OR TAXES that one has to pay in addition to that. Now that is a fact. Then, just to be sure there was no misunderstanding, I CALLED THE UTILITY! They verified all of these facts AND told me that this rate will probably increase by another 11.41% when approved.

        My numbers show 30.21 yen per kWh now, and 33.65 “any day now.” Those are facts that even you can calculate. I think I made my point and I did not need an ad hominem attack to do it.

        Even if you would have been right, it is really wrong to attack people like that. Because you were wrong, it is twice as bad. You should not bully some people just to mislead others.

      • Sam Gilman

        Rockne, let’s clear something up, because discussion will be difficult otherwise. I will keep this post separate from my reply to your content for a specific reason.

        I didn’t make an ad hominem attack on you. An ad hominem attack is where someone says “because you are an X, no one should believe you when you said Y”. Instead, I said “You say X and Y. These are crazy things to say for these reasons and I have difficulty believing that you seriously mean them.”
        On the other hand, when you try to diminish what I say by claiming I make ad hominem attacks, by calling me a “rare breed”, by dismissing me as being stone age etc., you’re committing an ad hominem attack.

        Probably what you didn’t like was my tone towards you, which I freely admit by the third reply was not the politest. But here’s the thing: it was my response to the incredibly condescending, know-it-all “I’ve got a solar panel so shut up you fools” tone you took from the very start, while at the same time you made some elementary errors obvious even to me as someone with a non-professional interest in energy.

        If you cannot bear being talked to in half the unpleasant spirit in which you talk to others, then it’s obvious what you should do: change your tone. Don’t blame other people for quite reasonably reacting to it. OK?

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        That is an explanation of your asinine comments. Not an apology.

        You gave up arguing the facts, you just want to make other people look stupid. You failed.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        I read your post again just to make sure I understood it correctly. Sam, apparently you “can’t bear” a lot of things. I called your off-the-cuff and ill-considered comments “tired.” I guess those are fighting words where you come from, eh?

        Not ad hominem, eh? Gee, it looks like you failed with the facts, but had to make me look bad anyway. Look. You said, when I gave correct information about people’s electric rates, that I … wait…here it is ..

        ” I think you’re a few apples short of a picnic… you claim not to be taking subsidies, yet think “In a country where people pay 30 yen and up per kWh solar has grid parity now.” That 30 yen and up per KWh is the FIT (feed in tariff), the subsidized price for solar, not for electricity in general.”

        Well, how do you like THEM apples, Sam? I was right. You had to make the claim that I am insane or an idiot or a liar because YOU jumped to conclusions. Don’t try to weasel out of it. I know what people are paying for electricity, and I confirmed it carefully. I was not talking about a FIT at all, was I?

        I deserve an apology. Surely we can discuss issues related to renewable energy without just ASSUMING that someone is mentally retarded, can’t we?

      • Sam Gilman

        I know from your recent comments on JT that you live in Tohoku, and the reference to an 11.41% increase confirms you’re a Tohoku EPCO customer. We can trade stories about who said what, or what’s written on a private piece of paper, but it doesn’t do much good. When I look at stuff that is available for both of us to look at, I find it doesn’t seem to match up with what you claim. Could you explain what I’m missing?

        Here’s what the Tohoku site says about changes in per Kwh pricing will come about this month, ie after your latest bill:

        http://www.tohoku-epco.co.jp/ryokin/reason/qa_detail01.html#06

        As with many if not all of the power companies in Japan (I haven’t checked all of them, just the biggest ones) there is a system whereby residential customers are charged increasing rates depending on usage. It’s the ichi-dan, ni-dan bit on bills. Before July 1 this year, the monthly rates were:

        up to 120kwh: 16.95yen/kwh, 121-300Khw: 22.70yen/kwh, 301kwh+: 24.31yen/kwh

        After July 1 this year, it will be

        up to 120kwh: 18.35 yen/kwh, 121-300Khw: 25.03yen/kwh, 301kwh+: 28.25yen/kwh

        Of course there are other charges involved that can be added to the bill, but this is the bit you say you’re talking about.

        Just in case I was missing something, I found an estimate of what a bill would look like after this month’s changes here. 280kwh monthly usage will result in an overall bill of ¥7,223. Overall, this translates into 25.80 yen/kwh, even with all the extras added in – and you say you’re not adding any extras in.

        So I am puzzled how it’s possible to get a bill, taking everything into consideration, not only the per Kwh price, that could be even higher than the highest per kwh rate that hasn’t even been introduced yet.

        Also, out of curiosity, given that you’ve refused to accept subsidies and sell your electricity to the grid at the FIT rate, how much are you being paid per Kwh? How was this price reached? It’s germane to this discussion because I think you’re conflating consumer prices with the cost of electricity to the electric companies.

        What you say about your bill could be entirely true, but going by what is publicly available, it doesn’t look plausible.

        I should clarify: I’m not anti-solar. I am simply against exaggerations of what solar is capable of because it is obvious even to me as a layperson that these exaggerations have a seriously damaging impact on public debate and on public resolve to take serious, effective action on climate change.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        You stated that I must be mistaken that people are paying more than 30 yen per hour. You vehemently insisted in BOLD TYPE that I must be thinking it was a FIT. I demonstrated that I was correct, I checked and double checked my figures, and I confirmed them with a call to my utility.

        If you want to add in an analysis of the tiered rate system, go ahead, but add in the connection fees for 30A or 50A too, just to be honest. And don’t forget taxes. And do you even know anyone who uses only 280 kWh per month? I don’t. You are just muddying the waters, grasping at anything that keeps you from looking like a slurring bully. Too late, I say.

        I am sorry you are puzzled. You are patently ignoring the facts. I did all the math for you to avoid challenging you or anyone else. I was honest and I did not use ad hominem attacks.

        You won’t be convinced of anything, that is for sure, but this exchange has been valuable. People understand a lot more about solar and a lot more about you.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        Sam. How snoopy do you really want to be? Looking for more character to assassinate? I read your comment again, and it seems that you want me to give up private information and that of others. Let me suggest to you that some people use ECOCUTE, which gives a lower offpeak contracted rate in exchange for a somewhat higher peak rate. Anyway, it STILL does not matter because soon everybody will be paying more than 30 yen peak.

        You made the idiotic assertion that I must be confused between a FIT and rate that is paid. You did it in bold print, with an ad hominem attack. Now I can accept that you must be embarrassed by your enthusiastic ignorance, but give it up. People in Japan DO PAY MORE THAN 30 YEN per kWh TODAY, and that rate is going up. It is not refutable and you were wrong.

        You are calmly demonstrating even more fail than you showed before. Don’t stoop to calling me a liar now and just make it worse. I already told you that I called the utility to confirm it. Do you need to see my phone bill now? Names and addresses maybe? Does that help?

      • Sam Gilman

        So, let’s get this clear – your “thirty yen and up” was referring to the highest (virtually penal) rates on economy schemes that encourage night-time usage (where the night time rate is only a third of your headline 30 yen rate)?

        In what sense is that representative of the actual average cost to electricity consumers?

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        We can be clearer than that, Sam. You accused me of lying or stupidity in bold print, and you were wrong. I am still waiting for your apology.

        Not only did you assume I was talking about a FIT, which was a conclusion you jumped to, but you called me a liar when I said “people in Japan are paying 30 yen and up for electricity”, which I demonstrated to be absolutely true.

        I never said it was the average rate, and patently demonstrated and explained that it is not, but I assert that if you average in all taxes and fixed charges, you will get a figure higher than 30 yen for anyone in the third tier of consumption, which is anyone who watches television. Moreover, that rate is going up almost everywhere in Japan by double digit percentages in the next month or two.

        Your nit picking of the contract rate for heat pumps is eclipsed by taxes and fees that I chose not to include. Your nit picking also ignores that many people living in modern areas of Japan use heat pumps for water heating. You probably don’t, because you seem incredulous about contracted rates, off peak pricing, and seem to be ignorant of FITs and rates. Most of my neighbors have heat pumps. I can’t blame you for your stunned and clumsy nit-picking. A person living in a closet in Tokyo is not going to share my experience, or my opportunities.

        The big picture is that solar has or will soon have grid parity throughout Japan. That has more to do with roof size and depreciation rates than it has to do with utility rates anyway, but PV solar has gone beyond novelty to being just another appliance that people install when they build a home. The impact over time will be huge.

        I expect more articles like this in the years to come.

      • Sam Gilman

        The thirty yen figure is misleading because it omits the low rates paid at night which are way below the average residential price. If you’re paying above average standard rates for your consumption, then you’re not getting the benefit of your payment plan. In any case, eco-cute still represent a clear minority of electricity consumers. Not all people live in closets in Tokyo, but then again, not everyone lives in a large house with roof-space like you do. We need to look at what is representative. I’ll repeat my general position: I have no problem with the idea of solar power, just the way that solar power advocates cherry pick figures (and the way the media gives them a free pass when doing this.) We can’t build a decent post-carbon energy policy based on what is, essentially, industry propaganda (it’s remarkable how industry sources are treated uncritically).

        While calculating capacity factor is a fairly simple process, calculating grid parity, unfortunately, is not. The idea is simple: when does solar cost less than the alternative conventional form of electricity normally used? However, given that there are different kinds of customers paying different rates (commercial rates are much lower than residential) and that the cost of electricity depends on how it is produced and for what purpose (gas, coal, oil, nuclear, wind, solar etc.; base load or load-following), and whether or not the electricity is being produced very locally or not (eg home solar being directly used versus large commercial solar array) all affect the meaning of grid parity. A bold statement like “solar will soon have grid parity throughout Japan” needs to be unpacked. Does this mean it is as cost-effective as baseload power? Does it mean for peak-time electricity, or electricity any time? No doubt solar will achieve grid parity in a variety of meanings very soon if it hasn’t already in some (and not your thirty yen and up mark, but the lower actual average kwh residential cost), but one has to be clear what meaning is being used. For example, peak demand for residential use is not the same time of the day as peak demand for commercial use.

        But frankly, I don’t think the cost issue is not the most pressing one for the large-scale rolling out of solar. It’s how much we can actually get out of it on a regular stable basis – which involves issues of storage and grid penetration.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        One more thing. You are a rare breed, Sam. In a country where people pay 30 yen and up per kWh, solar has grid parity now, and that situation is only going to improve. And yet you are actually ANTI-SOLAR. I find that astonishing. What possible axe can you grind against technologies like this?

        Most people see some problems as difficult, but they believe that incremental changes can effect meaningful transformations over time. Apparently you don’t. You nit pick.

        I am not a government agency. I made a choice to do something rather than just post rants on the internet. I entered an agreement with my utility. I paid for my own appliances. Now I and my community are better off. So is my utility. What possible complaint can you have against that?

        If your contribution to resolving Japan’s energy difficulties is turning off the lights when you leave the room, well good luck to you. And thanks. Other people are trying to do a lot more, and they are succeeding. And you will benefit from that.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    “The use of solar power in Japan has accelerated since the so-called feed-in tariff scheme for renewable energy was introduced in July 2012 to help offset the loss of nuclear power caused by the repercussions of the Fukushima disaster,”

    Actually…. No. I know for a fact the FIT was offered in 2011. And I know for a fact that the FIT was not offered simply because of 311, obviously. The Japan Times can check whether or not it was offered before 2011. I encourage people to take Kyodo with a grain of salt.

    • Starviking

      Japanese news service in reliability shocker! I hope the Japan Times will take a stand against this sloppy news-distorting organisation.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        I get the sarcasm, but you can see how this distorts the discussion. If one believes that the FIT started AFTER 3/11, then people will believe the “false history” that FITs are an anti nuclear measure. Sam Gilman apparently believes that. HIs main criticism of solar seem to be that some people see it as a replacement for nuclear.

        Anyway the statement is a lie, so a lot of Sam Gilman’s bias might be caused by a misconception of history.

        FITs were instituted at least in part to get Japan to generate less CO2 as part of the Kyoto Protocol. FITs are an anti carbon policy, not an anti nuclear policy. Other reasons they were instituted was to support the Japanese solar industry and to support utility deregulation.

      • Starviking

        I certainly wasn’t aware of the fact that FIT started before March the 11th 2011. The media certainly didn’t help lift the wool from my eyes there. I guess a lof of them are more interested in stoking anti-nuclear fears.
        Thanks for the info.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        Wow. November 2009 is when they started, apparently. I came in a little after that. I thought everybody knew this. Asahi got it wrong too. I was receiving FIT before the quake.

        One point of confusion is that they are renewed year by year. So every year the new rate and contract terms are announced. People just assume that “the big announcement” in 2011 was the beginning of the program. In fact it wasn’t. The terms were identical to those of the prior year.

        I will emphasize that I believe that advocating solar is not necessarily anti-nuclear, although many people want to bully others into that perspective.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    I am sorry for the mess in the comments that I got into when another poster called me an idiot or a liar. I think I resolved that pretty effectively, but in the interest of contributing to the community, I want to offer some interesting points about solar that nobody is making.

    We all know that solar does not work when the sun doesn’t shine. But one interesting benefit of solar is is zero to virtually zero marginal cost. Nuclear comes close, but every bit of nuclear fuel that is used contributes a little bit more to the pile of waste that must be disposed of someday. After PV solar panels are produced and installed, they do nothing but produce electric power. For decades if not longer. Use the power or don’t use it, but it is, for all intents and purposes, free. And if better panels are developed, the old panels will go to an aftermarket, where they will be marked down to the point where people will buy them an use them. That is not something that happens with nuclear plants, is it?

    The article reports a bigger market for solar! Great! The bigger the market, the bigger the aftermarket, creating a virtuous cycle of cheaper and cheaper generation of more and more power.

    I have already shown, using some math, that “grid parity” in Japan means “below 30 yen.” Solar is already there. I wonder if people realize this. Apparently some people don’t.

    Now, I am not saying that solar will put an end to nuclear, but can it be the end of coal? Maybe. If growth of the PV solar market is 10% per year, then we will have 4 times as much by about 2025. If we can use batteries or flywheels or hydrogen generation, as they are looking to do in Hokkaido, and use and store wind, we might find an entirely different Japan in 2025.

    Whatever happens, I am doing my part. I am not willing to sit back and tell others what to do. I am also not going to believe people who say that x or y is impossible. Japan has too many cynics already.

    • Eric

      I love how when you crushed Sam that Starviking trolled in to try and recover- and failed! . Rockne- you are my hero!

      • Starviking

        “trolled in”? Not a very good contribution to a technical debate.

        Rockne, on the other hand makes a lot of good contributions to many discussions.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    If there is a debate still going on here, it is this: When will we build new coal-fired power plants?

    This is the real issue facing Japan, and it is tied into this idea of capacity factor and the increased use of solar power.

    If we are to believe that the discussion should center upon Capacity Factor, then the only course open to our future is to build more coal fired plants. All but a handful of nuclear plants are already at the end of their useful life, so coal is the cheapest option. Whether or not nuclear is safe, we don’t have time to build new ones before the old ones give up the ghost… so to speak. Coal is the only way to be sure of generating electricity 24/7, and providing ultra cheap power at night… when nobody needs it.

    But if we believe that generating peak power to meet peak demand is the way to go, and it is the model of generation since Westinghouse’s first generation facility, then solar is a great way to keep us from building new coal plants. There might be other modes of generation that are good too. We already have too many coal plants, and we will have to rely on them, but how do we keep from building more? We need generation of power to match peak demand, which right now are sunny days.