The future of Japan got a little bit brighter with the opening of a massive 70-megawatt solar power plant in Kagoshima on November 4th. Government officials have exploded with enthusiasm as they attended its grand opening and continue to foster legislation to ensure a healthy market for renewable energy.
The impressively-named Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant represents the largest investment in solar power by a private Japanese company. Kyocera Corporation, known worldwide as manufacturers of electronics such as cell phones and printers, founded a spin-off nameplate in collaboration with six other companies in order to build and operate the facility. They procured special financing from a private bank and cut a deal with the owners of the site where the plant was slated to be built. Kyocera remains the primary controlling shareholder of the Kagoshima Mega Solar Power Corporation, and will reimburse its backers through future sales.
The investors are optimistic about getting their money back. Plans for the Kagoshima plant were encouraged by the Japanese government, which then crafted legislation that favors the project. As it operates, the solar power producers will enjoy a two-fold benefit: firstly, the 2012 institution of the current version of Japan’s feed-in tariff guarantees a fair rate per kW/hr of energy that accommodates the higher costs of building and maintaining the specialized technologies used to produce solar power; and secondly, the tenets of that program require all local utility providers to purchase 100% of the solar power available to their grid. Kyocera and its allies as a result are now providing a product that is guaranteed to sell, and to do so at a profitable price.
The sprawling complex rests on 314 acres and boasts 290,000 solar panels. The whopping 70 megawatts of electricity that the Kagoshima plant produces will power approximately 22,000 homes.
The Kagoshima Mega Solar Power Corporation maintains a sunny outlook on the future of its operations. Nobuo Kitamura enthuses that in committing to solar energy the company resembles the “many courageous samurai” who defied the established order at the very site in 1860s Japan. It furthermore hopes to serve as a beacon to attract tourists, investors, and researchers who hope to duplicate the project’s successes. To this end an adjacent building has been constructed that is dedicated exclusively to tourism. Educational installations explain the plant’s design and the science underlying the operation of photovoltaic panels. The wing also grants an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean and of the Sakurajima volcano in the distance.
Japan has embraced these efforts with the benefit of a new perspective on renewable energy following the Fukushima disaster. In 2011, one of the nuclear reactors that provided a majority of the power for the Eastern section of the country suffered damage from a tsunami that was triggered by an undersea earthquake. The natural disaster created a man-made one as it exploited flaws in design and safety protocols. Coolant leaks, explosions, and public exposure to radiation soon followed. Japan has since pursued as many alternative energy sources as it can find in an effort to phase out dependence on nuclear power.
The Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant now leads the industry as the largest vote of confidence by public and private entities. Solar energy has earned a growing enthusiasm in Japan, as attractions like the Sanyo Solar Ark and the planned Osaka Solar Park reflect the country’s expectations for the future. Japan may soon serve as a model for weaning the rest of the world from nuclear energy.
By Daniel Annear