Posts Tagged ‘solar power’

Electric cars aren’t just for driving any more

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Nissan charged up about giving back to the community.

Late last month, Nissan announced that starting in April its new electric car, the Leaf, would be used as an emergency power supply for a new office-condominium high-rise in Shinjuku managed by Sumitomo Real Estate. In the event of a disaster that resulted in a power failure, Leaf cars could be connected to the building’s electrical system through outlets specially installed for recharging electric vehicles and then the cars’ stored power could be used to supply electricity to the building for up to 42 hours for emergency services such as recharging cell phones and illumination. As a side note, the building also has a special hall that can be converted into a shelter for people in Tokyo who cannot return home during a disaster.

Though this is just a corollary benefit of the Leaf, Nissan’s announcement stresses the idea that electric vehicles could offer a wider range of purposes than just mobility. A number of new housing communities that are being developed with “smart grid” technologies have homes with EV charging stations. As with the Sumitomo building, these stations not only provide electricity for charging the battery of an EV, they also accept electricity from an EV that can be used in the home.

Such news is being stressed as more carmakers enter the EV field. Mercedes Benz Japan said it will start selling its own electric car, Smart, as early as August due to consumer demand. It will be the first foreign EV sold in Japan. At the moment the price hasn’t been determined, but an executive with the company has said it will be competitive with domestic EVs. The Leaf’s sticker price is about ¥4 million, but with the restart of the government’s eco car subsidy, a consumer could take it home for about ¥3 million. The Mitsubishi EV, the MiEV, is even cheaper. After subtracting the subsidy it would cost a little less than ¥2 million.

In related news, Panasonic has said it will start selling a rechargeable storage battery system (chikuden) for the home starting next week. The battery specifically takes advantage of home solar systems, and is mainly being promoted as a stopgap measure for power outages. The problem with solar systems is that they only work when the sun is shining and without a storage device any excess power goes to waste if it isn’t fed back into the grid. This battery can store solar power for the night, for a rainy day, or for blackouts. The battery is a lithium ion type, measuring 45 cm by 15.6 cm by 60 cm. Its capacity is 4.65kW per hour. When fully charged it can supply a house of average size with normal power for two days. The main drawback is the cost, which is ¥2,110,500. It’s cheaper to buy a MiEV.

Higher electric bills on horizon to pay for solar

Friday, January 27th, 2012

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.

Pittance: the surcharge for solar energy promotion on this December bill from Tepco is ¥6

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.

Realists and idealists on the cost of adopting renewable energy

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Though the power companies and their allies in the business community still insist that nuclear is the more viable form of energy generation for Japan, everyone else is already thinking beyond nuclear, including the government.

Towering, infernal; or, How I learned to stop worrying and love the pylon

On March 11 when the earthquake/tsunami happened, it just so happened that the Diet was discussing a bill to promote renewable energy sources like wind and solar. It is the exact same bill that Prime Minister Naoto Kan insists on passing before he steps down, and was written by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the government organ whose predecessor was mainly responsible for putting nuclear power at the center of Japan’s energy policy. It’s not as ironic as it sounds. METI has been charged by the international community with reducing Japan’s carbon output, and since renewables only account for one percent of the country’s energy production there’s room for improvement in that area. Besides, as bureaucratic maverick Shigeaki Koga wryly suggests in the Asahi Shimbun, for METI officials there are as many opportunities for career advancement in the renewable field as there are in the nuclear field.

The question now is, how much is the consumer going to have to pay for this shift to renewable energy? NHK ran a discussion of the matter on Saturday morning with two experts. Tetsuya Iida, a former nuclear power insider who now runs an energy research center, is, as the announcer labeled him, an “idealist”; while Yuzo Yamamoto, a professor at Kotoha University, is a “realist” on the matter.

According to the proposed bill, called the Renewable Energy Act, the government will endeavor to increase the share of wind and solar energy to 13 percent of all power generation in Japan in 10 years by setting the price that power companies will have to pay for that energy. Though a number of venture businesses have tried to make a go of renewables, their main problem is startup costs. “It’s unavoidable that you operate in the red at first,” said the president of one solar farm in Miyazaki Prefecture. Construction of windmills is very expensive and the cost has almost doubled over time owing mainly to the price of materials. Moreover, the power companies pay less for wind energy than they used to: ¥10 per kilowatt-hour, down from ¥12 per kw/hour in 2003.

An NHK reporter pointed out that METI had been subsidizing the construction of solar and wind farms, but that last year the subsidies were stopped after a round of the Administrative Reform Council, which was charged by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to cut waste. The premise was that the Renewable Energy Act would eventually be passed and thus make the subsidies obsolete.

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