Solar power is drawing renewed attention in resource-poor Japan in the runup to the annual Group of Eight summit, where global warming will be high on the agenda.
To help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, some Japanese households are installing solar panels, while local governments are actively supporting store owners, hospitals and schools in adopting such equipment.
Putting in solar panels increased after the central government established a subsidy system in fiscal 1994 to seek wider use among households.
The government discontinued the subsidies in fiscal 2005 when the price of such equipment was coming down, which perhaps unsurprisingly resulted in a decline in home installations.
But with the G8 summit due to be held next month in Hokkaido, the public is showing renewed interest in solar power.
Takeshi Hishida, representative director of Taiyo Hatsuden of Yokohama, said there has been a sharp increase in requests for information since the start of this year.
His company offers manufacturers’ cost estimates to people interested in installing solar power generation equipment at their homes.
“Many of those coming to us for advice say sunlight is clean and they want to contribute to the global environment,” the 46-year-old Hishida said.
Company employee Kenichi Kawauchi of Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, set up equipment capable of producing 3.18 kw of power in his home last November.
The 45-year-old spent ¥3 million on the project.
“Power output increases with the number of hours of sunshine,” Kawauchi said. “Our electricity bill decreased to ¥1,500 in March. Above all, my family’s awareness of ecology has been enhanced by monitoring the volume of power output.”
Hishida said the cost of installing solar power equipment with an output capacity of 3 kw is around ¥2 million, and some households have been able to recover the expense in about 15 years.
Makoto Nagashima, the 71-year-old president of a Tokyo cooperative at a shopping arcade that extends from JR Sugamo Station, said his group installed 188 solar panels when the arcade was rebuilt in April.
The mall is the third in Japan to introduce a solar power generation system. The remodeling cost ¥170 million, part of which was covered by subsidies from the central government and Toshima Ward. The system provides about 10 percent of the electricity consumed by the mall.
Aiming to turn Iwate Prefecture into an “environmental kingdom,” the prefectural government is planning to promote power from the sun. It has already introduced solar systems in 50 public facilities, including schools and hospitals.
It will install equipment capable of generating 50 kw at a prefectural hospital due to open next year in Kitakami.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is set to harness solar power for 40,000 households in fiscal 2008 and 2009 and is hoping to raise the utilization of solar energy to 1 million kw in fiscal 2016, equivalent to the power produced by a nuclear power reactor.
About 300 local governments across the country are implementing measures to support solar power, according to the New Energy Foundation.
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