After Fukushima, Japan beginning to see the light in solar energy
Government subsidies raising interest in renewables, but higher bills could complicate Shinzo Abe's economic recovery plan
Across Japan, technology companies and private investors are racing to install devices that until recently they had little interest in: solar panels. Massive solar parks are popping up as part of a rapid build-up that one developer likened to an "explosion."
The boom was sparked by a little-noted government policy, implemented nearly a year ago, that guaranteed generous payments to anybody selling renewable energy, including solar power. Because of that policy, known as a feed-in tariff, investors and analysts say Japan has become one of the world's fastest-growing users of solar energy. This year alone, Japan is forecasted to install solar panels with the capacity of five to seven modern nuclear reactors.
Before the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, Japan had all but neglected renewable energy, instead emphasising atomic power. But the accident at Fukushima forced the shuttering of the country's 50 operable reactors, only two of which have been restarted. The remaining shutdowns could prove temporary, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledging restarts of reactors that have been deemed safe. A majority of Japanese, though, remain opposed to atomic energy, and analysts say the solar takeoff highlights Japan's appetite for other options.
There is a downside to the rush for renewables: they are several times pricier than nuclear power or fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. The rising use of solar power means energy bills will spike, potentially complicating Abe's plan to jump-start Japan's long-foundering economy.