One Small Nuclear Reactor Replaced By Solar Panels In Japan During 2009

Sales of solar panels more than doubled in 2009 from a year earlier thanks to government incentives, says the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association. The panels shipped were capable of generating a total of 480,000 kilowatts of electricity, 2.1 times more than in 2008.

Asahi notes that the government in November 2009 started requiring utilities to buy surplus electricity from household solar panels at 48 yen per kilowatt-hour (about 40 U.S. cents), or double the previous price. And here is the best part:

Of the domestic shipments, panels for residential use accounted for 430,000 kilowatts, up 2.3 times from the previous year. That generation capacity is equivalent to a small nuclear reactor.

It wouldn't cost that much, all things considered, to change the way we consume electricity, and make a huge difference in terms of reducing the dependency on nuclear energy.


Pandabonium said…
While I applaud the increased rate of solar panel production, we need to keep it in perspective. In 2008, Japan produced 1.025 Trillion kWh of electricity, so 430,000 kWh is only about 4.2 × 10-7 of the total or .000042 percent.

Even if production increased 2.3 times every year for the next ten years (doubtful) we would still not have added 2 tenths of 1 percent of the total electrical use of Japan today. (Solar energy accounted for 1,172 MW in 2008.)

Tepco (Tokyo Electric) will pay 48 yen per kWh for customer produced solar energy, BUT only for the first 300 kWh (about a month's worth for us) then the rate drops to whatever the current rate is (at this time we pay about 21.5 yen/kWh, so it's not such a big incentive as it first appears.

The cuts in our consumption will have to be huge to get off nukes.

I am curious in your insights into why solar is not used more. In the US, Jimmy Carter encouraged alternative energy sources in the 1970's. He created a national speed limit of 55 mph. People were starting to use solar (many people use them for hot water or swimming pool heating in my area). A professor of mine who taught energy politics told me he made his house passive and active energy efficient during that time.

I thought I would see them everywhere--they really make sense in places with much sunlight.

Then Reagan came to power, removed the solar collectors Carter installed on the White House, and the collective US mindset became delusional/consumption-oriented, resource reality challenged again.

It seems to me (and I know v. little about this) that people in Japan took the Oil Crisis of the 70's seriously--in marked contrast to Americans.

Are people consuming less energy in Japan since that time period; what about comparatively with other nations?

I still see Hummers on US roads and television shows glorify extreme conspicuous consumption (of energy and all resources) lifestyles--despite an economic recession, climate change, and resource challenges that are worldwide,

Any thoughts?
Pandabonium said…
TTT - in Hawaii I lobbied for a change to the building code that would mandate solar hot water heating on every new home. Seemed a no-brainer in that state with all its sunshine and heavy dependence on oil imports for energy. They still don't get it.

Anyway, as for solar electrical panels, the reason is two fold - politics and cost. Photovoltaic panels require a heavy up front invesstment. After that, they are virtually free for decades. Alternatives like coal, gas, and oil, are relatively low cost up front for the consumer and pay as go for the energy. This seems fine as long as one assumes cheap fuel will continue to be available and one isn't considering one's carbon footprint.

So, most people won't invest in PV. People like me, who see the huge social cost of climate change and know that fossil fuels will rise dramatically in cost in the future may go ahead and invest in PV panels (assuming we have the savings to do so).

This is where politics comes in. The costs of using fossil fuel are not just the price of electricity but also the social costs of pollution and climate change. Those costs, however, are hidden to the individual consumer. They can only be addressed by the political process.

Governments influence what forms of energy are used through tax policies, regulations, and stimulus packages. You mentioned Reagan - one of the first things he did was to lower the oil windfall profits tax and later he ended it altogether.

Under Obama, the US subsidizes corn ethanol which has a negative return on energy invested.

I do not believe the government should be asked to pick the kind of alternate energy we use. Rather, knowing that we must act to curb climate change and that fossil fuels are a non renewable energy source which in the case of oil has already passed peak production, we need to encourage people to use alternatives.

How do we do that? Make the fossil fuels more expensive through tighter building codes, environmental regulations on extraction, refining, and burning of those fuels; ending of subsidies, and direct excise taxes on the finished product. Use the tax money to help people invest in alternatives of their choosing.

The effect on the economy will be both negative and positive, but we've also got to stop measuring progress in terms of profits and start looking at quality of life instead.
Pandabonium said…
the line "ending of subsidies, and direct excise taxes on the finished product" should read "ending of subsidies, and instead increase direct excise taxes on the finished product"
Martin J Frid said…
Thanks for the comments, very interesting insights. First, though, I think the "small nuclear reactor" as noted by The Asahi is still a signifigant perspective on the use. I'd like to see more solar, less nuclear, and of course there is a long way to go.

About subsidies, Japan had a 10 year program in place 1996-2006, which was revived in 2009, which is why we are seeing a huge increase now. I don't understand what you mean by "direct excise taxes on the finished product" - higher tax on electricity?
Thanks P and Hi Martin,

I think most Americans who read the news must know that Obama's support of ethanol is really a support for a boondoggle for Big Agriculture. Ethanol is such a see-through green-wash.

The US is giving tax breaks for energy-efficient changes to home (i.e. increased insulation). But the architects I know just shake their heads at this and say it's not enough because the typical American suburban home because they're nothing but "boxes for energy consumption." The same with most housing I observed in Japan.

With all our knowledge of passive/active energy efficiency (and lower cost ways to construct in this manner), social inertia seem to keep people ignorant of how industrial-government structures keep energy, environmental, health care, and other costs hidden. There's still not enough education about how lifestyle choices contribute to inefficiency and consumption.

My area of study was nonviolent social change movements--and maybe I am just a hopeful person, but I think the story of one small reactor being replaced is v. hopeful. It's a very small increment as you point out, but in the right direction. And small increments, especially if they gain momentum, can add up to significant change,
as Martin thinks.

My neighbors and I all became overjoyed at Bush's gasoline hikes--because we think this would result in lowered energy consumption--and it has.

I think consumption and efficiency is the key. People have to stop consuming.

Solar panel energy production seems to me to create a much more gentle "feeling" in homes. It's subtle, but you can sense it. I think that in itself is worth the initial cost. And I think it feels satisfying good to collect water in rainbarrels for the garden, use indigenous plants to xeriscape, compost, and not produce waste.

I get the sense so often that we are at the fin de siecle of an easy and cheap lifestyle era. It feels "unreal" to me the same way the easy money feeling of the 1980's in Tokyo did. I arrived for a summer school program in 1987 and a professor kept raving "Tokyo of the 80's is like Paris of the 20's." He didn't realize how right he was--not just in terms of the easy, glamorous, intoxicating atmosphere especially in ex-pat circles--but in the crash ahead. We're obviously in a slow crash when it comes to energy and resources.

There's a range in the sensing of change in the US --some US think they will have to return to survivalist lifestyles--like Mad Max (which I never watched but think it's about futuristic primitive living :))--to those who think the middle class is just slowly going to become less affluent similarly to Japan in the 1990's and 2000's.

In any case, most are still living lifestyles that don't correspond with realities of resources and other factors.

Thanks to Martin for the story and you for these insights and info.

Pandabonium said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pandabonium said…
I may have misunderstood the article. I was using their figure as total electricity generated in one year. If instead they were referring to the power of the system, a 430,000 kw system could generate perhaps 322 million kWh in a year. A difference of a factor of about 750 times. Still, not going to change the world, but a big difference from what I stated.

My point is, we're not going to replace nukes, coal plants, or oil fired plants with solar panels (or hydro or wind or any combination thereof). Isn't going to happen. Sorry. That is not to say I don't think wind and solar should not be pursued as aggressively as possible to cushion the impact of energy depletion.

Martin - by "direct excise taxes on the finished product" I mean gasoline and diesel fuel at the pump, keorsene, natural gas, and yes, electricity. Taxing the product raises its price and will result in conservation. The money from such taxes can go to subsidize renewables and conservation measures such as home insulation. Of course, I don't advocate pricing poor people out of heating for the winter - but that can be handled through other measures.

Solar panels are nice, but expensive. They also require (at this time anyway) rare earth elements which may not always be cheap or even available at all. In addition they require high tech manufacturing facilities with "clean rooms", and considerable expenditures of energy in mining, shipping and processing the materials - dependent on a high energy economy. So, I don't think solar PV will be around in 100 years. But for now, they are probably a good investment to, as I said above, help to cushion the energy crunch of the next several decades.

As you say, TTT, we need to stop consuming. How do we get people on board with that? Or will they simply be forced to by events?
P & M,

Do you see any solutions?

In the 70's, President Carter and many in the US wanted to pursue a combination of approaches.

Just think where the world would be had they succeeded and Reagan not been elected.

Why is there not an emphasis on lessening consumption--including all HIDDEN forms of energy consumption?

Passive energy efficient construction is not expensive. It can be done cheaply. I don't know why people aren't doing it more.

Our global problem is a failure of leadership and grassroots initiatives and even of activists not taking everything they do seriously--Global warming activist leaders need to pay attention to the role of the meat industry and industrial agricultural system in creating climate change and each one buy from small farmers, try to be organic, support small farmers and stop eating meat or attempt to lessen their condumption.

And we need to go back to early 20th-century standards of living and radically reduce individual energy consumption--small houses, wearing hand-me-down clothes, minimize travel, all the simplicity movement advice.

Thanks for your info and insights P & M.


Re your "how" question-- my personal view it that people have to be pushed by events, especially their pocketbooks, to change their habits--esp. in the US where ridiculous forms (McMansions, SUVs) were the "style" just a few years ago.

Even with all we know about cliimate change and resource issues.

In the US there's a huge propaganda effort out at many levels that climate change/resource issues are a "hoax."

Then so many powerful people are simply using climate change concerns as means to try to make some money, i.e. REDD, ethanol, wind farms (in my view).

This level of corruption of the elite and our political leader leaders and ignorance of the masses in the US and other nations form as much of a challenge as climate change/resource issues themselves in my view.

I believe in state intervention myself--like the Carter Energy Plan. I don't know much about details but I think Japan is going in the right direction, gaining momentum, and there are similar movements in other countries.

No comment about the US.
Martin J Frid said… has data on per capita electricity consumption (2006).

Here are the top ten:

Iceland: 31,147 kWh per capita
Norway: 24,011
Finland: 16,850
Canada: 16,279
Qatar: 15,938
Kuwait: 15,210
Sweden: 14,769
Luxembourg: 14,604
United States: 12,924
United Arab Emirates: 12,483

Japan ranks 22 at 7,701 kWh per capita.
This list is of freezing or v. hot places.

It seems that electricity in these places would be used for heating or air-conditioning.

But what appears likely is often incorrect, of course.

This is v. inmportant information! Also, what are these countries using the electricity for.

It's interesting that the world's manufacturing nation, China, is not on the list.

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