The government’s plan to develop solar energy as an integral part of Japan’s electric power system is starting with power companies buying surplus energy from people who have installed solar collection systems in their homes. To promote solar energy, the companies are required to pay a certain price for the power, and they pass this added cost on to all their customers as a surcharge. On your bill it is designated as taiyoko sokushin fukakin (solar energy promotion supplement) and varies in amount depending on where you live. In regions where solar energy collectors are more prevalent, the surcharge will be larger, since the utilities in those areas pay more money for solar energy. As can be expected, sunnier regions tend to have more solar collectors.
Right now 3.3 percent of homes in Japan have solar systems, which means Japan has a long way to go before it reaches former Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s target of 10 million homes with solar systems, which would mean about 40 percent. In Kyushu, which tends to have more days of sunshine than other regions, the portion is 6.4 percent. In Hokkaido, it’s only 0.8 percent, which means the average surcharge for Kyushu residents is much higher than it is for Hokkaido residents.
Another factor that determines how widespread solar systems are in a given area is the amount of subsidies local governments offer to residents who install them. In 2010, Aichi Prefecture was No. 1, with 16,000 applications for subsidies, followed by Saitama and Tokyo. Home ownership rates in Aichi and Saitama are very high.
The Nihon Keizai Shimbun has reported that on Jan. 24 Japan’s 10 regional power companies announced that the surcharge would increase in 2012. Currently, the surcharge ranges from ¥2 to ¥21 per month. It will increase, depending on the place, by ¥3 to ¥24 per month. (For Tokyoites, it will average about ¥17 a month.) These 10 companies bought 2.15 billion kilowatt/hours worth of energy from home solar systems in 2011, which is equivalent to 30-40 percent of the output of a nuclear reactor during the course of a single year. For this, they paid ¥95.6 billion, a 53 percent increase over what they paid for solar energy in 2010.
In July, the power companies will start another phase of the energy scheme when they begin buying electricity from wind power generators and other renewable energy sources, though it isn’t clear right now what sort of surcharge will be added to energy bills as a result.