Land of the rising sun: solar power in post-nuclear Japan

In 2010, almost 30% of Japan’s energy came from nuclear sources. However, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 caused Japan to turn away from nuclear power, with the proportion of energy generated by nuclear reactors dropping from 28.6% to just 1.1% in 2015.

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While the country’s share of renewable energy has increased by 4.2% in the aftermath of the disaster, that increase has been offset by the use of fossil fuels, which the country has turned to in an effort to make up the deficit.

As Japan looks to rebalance its energy mix, government plans have suggested that nuclear energy could still play a leading role in the country’s energy needs, but this is a somewhat contentious idea in light of the lasting effects of the Fukushima disaster.

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Renewable sources provide a preferable solution, but Japan is limited in terms of the renewable options. However, photovoltaic solar is a popular resource in Japan, with 2015 figures indicating a national capacity of 34 GW.

As a country with such limited space, innovators in Japan have had to work hard to find ways to generate electricity without compromising on living space. The installation of floating solar arrays by a Japanese company, Kyocera, has been one way of getting around the issue.

An artist impression of how the array should look when complete. Credit: Kyocera

An artist impression of how the array should look when complete. Credit: Kyocera

By doubling up the functionality of reservoirs and using the water surface to float solar panels, the company has found a solution which can help to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Kyocera currently operates a number of floating solar arrays. The largest one is a 13.7 MW installation on the Yamakura Dam, which began construction in early 2016 and is expected to be complete by 2018. The other installations are much smaller, capable of generating just 1.7 and 1.2 MW, respectively.

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The country’s ability to look beyond nuclear for a more sustainable source of energy, and the innovative way in which it has been implemented, is a positive sign for the future of renewables in Japan, both at a governmental and commercial level.

Other renewable sources have been targeted by the Japanese Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, including geothermal and wind power projects.

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