In the Wake of Fukushima, Japan Encouraging Solar Power with Feed-In Tariff System

The May 11, 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, touched off by an earthquake and a tsunami, was the worst of its kind since Chernobyl. It has caused a shift in that country concerning energy policy.

According to Gizmodo, Japan has started a policy of encouraging the construction of solar power parks, using a subsidy mechanism called the feed-in tariff, used by a number of countries to encourage the development of renewable energy.

According to a paper by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a feed-in tariff generally involves granting developers of solar energy parks or wind farms long term contracts based on the cost of producing electricity plus a premium. The policy can be used to encourage a variety of renewable energy projects, but in Japan they have tended to be solar.

One of the first projects thus encouraged in Japan is the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, with a solar array floating in an inlet in southern Japan. Solar arrays tend to take up space, which is at a premium in Japan, thus the decision to place the array out on the water. The facility is run by a Japanese electronics company called Kyocera. It is capable of providing electricity to 22,000 homes.

The Washington Post noted recently that the switch from nuclear and fossil fuels to solar and other renewable energy sources is likely to prove costly to Japanese consumers. Energy derived from solar and wind is estimated to be twice as costly as that from more conventional sources. However the Japanese, noting the cost of the deaths and the cleanup in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, have for now considered the cost worth it.

The feed-in tariff system is a legacy of Naoto Kan, the Japanese prime minister at the time of Fukushima. He was forced to resign as a result of the disaster, but in return for his departure, he worked out a deal with the opposition party to institute the feed-in tariff system with a goal of boosting renewables as a share of Japan’s energy production.

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