Finding more land for solar power facilities key to nation’s energy goals

REUTERS/Michael Caronna
The surface of a solar panel is pictured at the 3rd International Photovoltaic Power Generation Expo in Tokyo March 4, 2010.

The generation of solar power is key to significantly increasing renewable energy that does not emit greenhouse gases. It is necessary to continue devising ways to expand its use, while steadily solving related problems.

The government stated in the draft of its strategic energy plan compiled in July that it would make renewable energy Japan’s main source of power and raise the share of solar power — the pillar of such energies — to 15% of the fiscal 2030 energy mix, up from 7% in fiscal 2019.

Solar power can be introduced in a shorter time frame compared to other energy sources such as wind power. Solar power generation has increased rapidly due to the feed-in tariff system that started in 2012.

As a result, Japan now ranks No. 1 in the world in terms of photovoltaic power generation capacity by land area, but is running out of suitable sites available for this purpose. Many observers have said it appears difficult to further expand solar power generation in the nation. The government must devise measures to make more land available.

In recent years, an increasing number of companies have built solar power generation facilities by cutting down forests, raising concerns among residents. In the torrential rains that hit western Japan in 2018, a slope with solar panels collapsed in Kobe, causing the suspension of Shinkansen services.

There also have been cases in which residents oppose the construction of facilities, saying it will damage the landscape and natural environment, which has often led to conflict.

In an effort to overcome these circumstances, the Environment Ministry plans to set up so-called promotion zones in various parts of the nation that are selected by local governments as suitable land, thereby making it easier to install facilities. It is important for local governments to thoroughly identify land conducive to solar power generation with the consent of local residents.

Japan is believed to have about 280,000 hectares of abandoned farmland that is currently not under cultivation. Such land should be utilized.

The government intends to speed up procedures for converting land regarded as difficult to maintain as farmland into sites for solar power generation. It is hoped that each local government will support smooth conversion.

So-called agricultural power generation is also attracting attention as a system in which farmers grow crops while generating solar power on the roofs of their greenhouses and elsewhere. This has the advantage of allowing people to make money by selling crops and electricity. The system should be supported through the expansion of subsidies, among other forms of assistance.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry plans to set up solar panels in empty spaces in airports. The Environment Ministry will promote the installation of panels on the roofs of buildings used by the central and local governments and cultural facilities among others.

Waterborne solar power generation, in which photovoltaic panels float on the surface of reservoirs and dam lakes, also looks promising. It is ideal to locate all kinds of space for solar power, including private factories and houses.

The public and private sectors are working together to develop next-generation solar panels. These panels will be lighter and more flexible than current ones, and if it becomes possible to attach them to building walls, there will be more potential for their use. Efforts to put them to practical use should be expedited.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 30, 2021.