Japan Mulls Making All New Buildings Go Solar

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The Japanese press had an interesting report out over the weekend: Prime Minister Naoto Kan is considering a plan to require all new buildings in Japan to install solar paneling by 2030. The plan, which would cover all new homes and commercial buildings, is expected to be announced at the end of the week at the two-day G8 summit in France.

Interesting. We’ve been covering Japan’s unfolding energy policy since Kan announced he was putting the brakes on the nation’s planned nuclear expansion. The PM has also requested Hamaoka nuclear power plant to shut down until it gets a better earthquake and tsunami emergency plan in place, but in the long term, after safety inspections are complete, it’s expected that the vast majority of Japan’s existing 54 nuclear power reactors will continue to operate.

As my colleague in Tokyo Lucy Birmingham wrote last week, of the various renewables that Kan says can help fill in the nation’s energy gap, solar will the fastest to way to add power to the grid. She writes:

Gaetan Borgers, who leads the global solar business for Dow Corning Toray in Tokyo, says the March 11 disaster has generated new solutions for solar-power installation in Japan’s relatively small geographic areas. “The [irradiated] agricultural land near the Fukushima power plant is no longer usable, so why don’t we convert that into solar plants?” he asks. He cites a convincing calculation from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology: “Rice produced on one hectare of land yields a yearly revenue of 1.58 million yen, while a solar plant on the same surface would generate a revenue of 7.5 million yen.” With changes in Japan’s land-use law, struggling agricultural farmers could become profitable solar farmers.

Japan has been here before. In the 80s, the nation led the world in solar power technology, but it was eclipsed by Europe when the governments of Spain and Germany, among others, started to subsidize solar energy, pushing the region to the head of the market.

With this week’s anticipated announcement, Kan looks like he’s pushing for Japanese companies to lead another breakthrough, to bring solar technology prices down enough to bring it out of its periphery status. Stay tuned.