Residents’ concerns about power generation facilities must be dispelled

How can the government gain the understanding of residents in regional communities regarding solar and other renewable energy facilities that are essential for decarbonization? The government must compile measures to dispel the concerns of residents as soon as possible.

The government has set up a study panel involving various ministries and agencies to ensure the appropriate installation of renewable energy power generation facilities and the improvement of management in the sector. The panel was established due to a surge in solar and wind power generation facilities across the country, and a rise in the number of cases where problems have developed with local residents. The government said it plans to draw up necessary measures as early as this summer.

From the autumn of 2016 to February this year, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry received 850 consultations and complaints about renewable energy facilities.

In some cases, solar panels were installed on plots of land designated as landslide warning zones, and concerns were raised that serious damage could occur in the event of a disaster. Concerns were also expressed about the management of facilities that had no surrounding fences or walls, and there were also complaints about the lack of information from operators prior to the construction of facilities.

Even though there is an urgent need to expand renewable energy for decarbonization, construction that causes unease in communities should be avoided.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has regulatory authority over land in residential areas and other locations while the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry oversees farmland and forests, and approval for power generation operators is handled by the economy ministry. Their respective authority is based on different laws, and there has been insufficient cooperation among relevant ministries and agencies.

The panel will study a framework in which the central government can share necessary information with local governments so that they can work together in calling for facility operators to make improvements. The panel will also consider creating uniform criteria regarding the location of power generation facilities, based on the type of renewable energy. It is hoped that clear rules will be established to prevent problems from occurring.

In Japan, the number of solar power generation facilities has surged since a feed-in tariff system began in 2012 for renewable energy. Japan already ranks top among major countries in terms of installed photovoltaic capacity per square kilometer on flatland. Currently, there are few suitable sites for solar power generation.

However, the government has set a goal of doubling the share of solar to 14-16% in fiscal 2030, from about 8% in fiscal 2020. Technological innovation and smooth introduction in regional communities will be essential to achieve this goal.

It is hoped that next-generation solar panels, which are lighter and more flexible than conventional products, will be put into practical use. If such panels are installed on the walls of buildings, among other places, the number of solar power generation sites can be greatly increased.

To overcome the weaknesses of renewable energy, which can be affected by weather conditions, it is also necessary to accelerate efforts to develop batteries that can store large amounts of electricity.

In Kyushu and Tohoku, among other regions, power companies have asked solar power providers to stop generating electricity on some sunny days because they have not been able to use all of the power being generated. In such situations, electricity generated by the expanded renewable energy sector is being wasted.

The power grid must be upgraded so that electricity can be transmitted across regions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 13, 2022)