Are Safety Measures at Panel Installation Sites Sufficient?

There have been a number of cases in which solar power generation facilities installed on mountain slopes have collapsed due to heavy rains and other factors. It is important to ensure the safety of the installation sites so as not to endanger the safety of local residents.

A Yomiuri Shimbun survey found that among the 8,700 large-scale solar power generation facilities installed in Japan, at least 230 are located in areas with a high risk of landslides. Most of them are located on mountain slopes, with some having a high concentration of houses at the foot of the slope.

It is argued that when trees are cut down to secure space for installation, the water retention capacity of the mountains is reduced, making landslides more likely to occur. A catastrophe could occur if a large number of panels were to slide down all at once and hit houses and roads.

In the torrential rain disaster in western Japan that occurred in 2018, solar panels collapsed on a mountain slope in Kobe, causing the Shinkansen line running nearby to suspend service. In fiscal 2021, there were nearly 50 accidents nationwide in which panels were washed away due to heavy rain or landslides.

Solar power is the main source of renewable energy, and once the panels are installed, electricity can be easily generated. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, electric power companies began purchasing the electricity generated from renewable energy at a price determined by the government, and many businesses have built facilities in mountain forests and on farmland in this program set up by the government.

The use of solar power is essential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, in its haste to promote the use of solar power, the government may have lacked awareness of the need to ensure the safety of the locations where the panels are installed.

In the current Diet session, a revised special measures law on renewable energy was enacted. The revised law includes a provision that if there are violations of laws and regulations, such as insufficient disaster prevention measures for facilities, operators in violation will be removed from the electricity purchase program.

The central and local governments should conduct inspections anew of the panels in each area to ensure that they are not in danger of collapsing, and if violations are found, the authorities should take strict steps.

The revised law also requires that operators hold a public meeting to inform local residents of the plan when building new facilities or reselling existing facilities.

In addition to concerns about disasters, there are also complaints about solar power generation, such as the fact that the sites do not fit in with local landscapes and that the reflected light is too bright. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has reportedly received over 1,000 complaints and consultations regarding renewable energy facilities.

Operators need to consider solutions to such issues and carefully explain them to residents in the area.

Many of the panels in various locations will reach the end of their durable life in the 2030s. How to dispose of the panels and whether recycling is feasible, including the development of technology, must be urgently considered.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 19, 2023)