March 4, 2015

Japan’s Growth In Solar Power Falters As Utilities Balk

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March 3rd, 2015 | The New York Times | Jonathan Soble

Ever since the nuclear meltdown forced Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant to close four years ago, the country has been looking for ways to replace that power source. Until recently, it seemed the country’s booming solar business could be an answer. But, as The New York Times reports, the country’s utility companies say their grid infrastructure can’t handle that influx of renewable power.

Because the sun doesn’t always shine, solar output fluctuates. This intermittent power, especially when it is coming from thousands of small producers, is hard to handle.

“The homework wasn’t done,” Nobuo Tanaka, former executive director of the International Energy Agency told The Times. Utilities, he said, need to install more hardware — transmission cables, substations and the like — and develop new kinds of expertise to avoid disruptions. “To make renewables work in reality, they have to be properly connected to the power system.”

The will and ability to invest in fixing this infrastructure issue depends largely on the Japanese government’s continued commitment to solar. Recent actions, however, are making some question that commitment: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is working to bring back some of the country’s nuclear reactors and his administration recently reduced the amount of renewable power that utilities are required to buy from independent producers.

The struggle to incorporate solar isn’t just a problem in Japan. Inside Energy’s Dan Boyce reported last year that utility companies in states like Colorado and Arizona are fighting back against the disruptive impact of solar power.

Just last week, Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reported that despite Wyoming’s strong solar potential, politics and economics have kept down solar development.