Almost two years after a massive earthquake and tsunami combined to spark a nuclear disaster in Japan, the country is aggressively moving to renewable energy.
Only two of the 50 nuclear plants that once generated roughly one-third of Japan's electricity are currently operating. The government is pushing that radical shift in power with a new tariff that requires utilities to purchase renewable energy at fixed rates for 20 years. As hoped, those premium rates are prompting a surge in green energy projects.
"The simultaneous meltdown of three nuclear reactors and the profound threat of radiation left a possibly indelible mark on the political consciousness with regards to energy infrastructure," says Andrew DeWit, PhD, a professor in the School of Policy Studies at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan.
Less than three months after the tariff took effect on 1 July, more than 33,000 renewables projects had received approval, according to Reuters. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted Japan's investment in solar, wind and other forms of eco- friendly energy could jump to US$17.1 billion this year- nearly double the 2011 figure.
One deal calls for Toshiba and several other firms to collectively invest JPY120 billion over 10 years to build offshore wind turbines with an output of 300 megawatts. In addition, Sumitomo Corporation announced plans in September to build wind farms and biomass plants. And Gestamp Solar, calling Japan one of its priority markets, announced plans to develop 300 megawatts of solar power, mainly on rooftops, over a three-year period.
"Right now Japan is in a power crisis, and the immediate response will be in solar," Dean Enjo, an analyst at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Tokyo, told Bloomberg Businessweek in October. "Solar farms can be scaled up in months. Biomass, geothermal, wind - they are all viable sources, but they take a lot of time and have a lot of red tape involved."
Despite the push for sustainability, some utility companies are hedging their bets by maintaining a foothold in the nuclear game.
Though the monopolized utilities own the grid and have an obligation to purchase the power at feed-in tariff rates, a clause in the tariff allows monopolies to claim that the intermittent nature of solar and wind power poses a threat to the reliability and stability of the grid, Dr. …