Intelligent Energy

Could solar panels become mandatory in Japan?

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Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan is preparing to announce a major energy policy shift that would eventually make solar panel installations mandatory on new buildings.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan will announce his vision for more renewable energy to world leaders at the G8 conference this week.

The radiological disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi earthquake-damaged reactors has compelled the Japanese government to draft plans to require all new construction to be outfitted with solar panels by 2030, according to press reports.

Public outcry against nuclear power in Japan following the incident has been significant, drawing thousands to protest as well as apologies and resignations by public officials.

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan isn’t politically tone-deaf. Kan will spearhead the new energy plan, which he is expected to announce later this week. It would not exempt private residences, but the government will outline steps to make the panels more affordable.

Japan is currently third in the world in installed solar capacity; the plan would result in an estimated 15-fold increase in solar power use, Reuters says.

The policy is a big paradigm shift from the 2010 energy plan that the Japanese leadership adopted last year, where it aimed to build at least 14 new nuclear power plants by 2030.

Nuclear energy is Japan’s current “clean” energy workhorse. It accounts for 34.5 percent of Japan’s electricity generation, but neglected, outdated – and possibly faulty — reactor designs have proven to be unfit for Japan’s high-risk geography.

Geothermal and solar technologies have been the frontrunners in its clean energy mix. The government’s existing renewable-energy policy has set comparatively low targets for wind power.

Whether the public buys into the revised plan is another story. Payback on the solar panels will take years, and solar power plants are currently appreciably more expensive than nuclear and wind facilities. But Japan has an ingrained ability to take bold action in the wake of disaster.

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure