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Softbank, U.S. firm tie on fuel-cell JV

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Softbank Corp. and U.S. fuel cell developer Bloom Energy Corp. said Thursday that they established a fifty-fifty joint venture in Tokyo to sell electricity generated by solid oxide fuel cells instead of hydrogen-based fuel cells.

Capitalized at ¥1 billion, the new venture, Bloom Energy Japan, “intends to address Japan’s urgent need for clean, reliable, and affordable electricity,” the pair said in a statement, adding that it will take advantage of Bloom Energy’s “energy servers,” which can run on biogas or city gas as a safe, clean and onsite electricity alternative, Softbank said.

The California-based firm, set up in 2001, has supplied a combined 700 million kwh over the past five years to such U.S. customers as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., AT&T Inc. and the Coca Cola Co., allowing them to reduce energy costs and mitigate blackout risks, Softbank said.

Amid the rising power costs caused by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Internet conglomerate said the technology complements its portfolio of renewable energy sources, including solar and wind.

Softbank is one of several firms looking to tap clean energy since the meltdowns at the Fukushima plant left all but two of the nation’s 50 reactors idle.

The disaster forced utilities to scramble for supplies of coal and liquefied natural gas as they rushed to revert to thermal power generation. Atomic power had been responsible for about one-third of Japan’s electricity.

Last year the government started a feed-in tariff program that guarantees generators of clean energy a premium rate for selling their power to the regional monopolies, for over 20 years.

The move was part of a plan to dramatically increase the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy and to reduce Japan’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In May, U.S. investment banking giant Goldman Sachs said it would start investing in Japanese renewable energy projects and was reportedly ready to make a $2.9 billion outlay over five years.