KAMIGORI, Hyogo Pref. (Kyodo) Thick blue solar cells covered with reinforced glass cover the roof of the Nishi-Harima prefectural branch office here.

The panels soundlessly generate power as the summer sun beats down.

The solar power the office started generating in July 2002 reflects the progress being made in various parts of the country to tap new energy resources, including sunlight, wind and snow.

People worried about the impact of oil and nuclear power on the environment are even turning to organic matter, including kitchen garbage, to generate electricity.

The branch office is one of the core facilities in Harima Science Garden City, a big complex of research institutes, universities and high-tech plants.

There are 4,218 panels at the office, including 3,380 on the roof and 838 on another building. Each is 1.3 meters long and 0.8 meter wide.

A display on the first floor showed that about 260 kw were being generated — enough power for 90 households and the equivalent of 611 barrels of oil.

In the summer, the solar cells generate enough power to supply the daily electricity needs of the office, which sold about 1.8 million yen worth of surplus electricity to Kansai Electric Power Co. during fiscal 2003.

The Hyogo Prefectural Government is enthusiastic about measures to curb global warming and is hoping to harness sunlight to generate power because it does not create carbon dioxide.

The introduction of solar power took place without a hitch.

The prefecture held public bidding for the equipment on condition that the provider could guarantee an annual power output of 400,000 kw for 20 years.

Major makers, including Sharp Corp., won the bid.

A government-affiliated institution subsidized about half of the roughly 268 million yen installation cost, according to a prefectural official.

He said the main drawback is that solar panels cannot generate power on rainy days and at night, and their installation costs may not be recouped even after 20 years.

But interest in the solar panels is gradually growing at the local government and public levels. About 2,000 people visit the office each year, including those from other prefectures.

Yukio Tanabiki, chief of the coordination division of the Nishi-Harima prefectural bureau, said the panels have been quite important in terms of educating the public about solar power.

The municipal office in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, also boasts solar panels, as do some corporations, schools and houses. Their electricity output totaled about 630,000 kw in fiscal 2002 — the equivalent to 0.6 that of a nuclear power generator.

But the main sticking point is whether they are economically viable because of the high installation costs.

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