Solar Japan: Japan approves a full Germany worth of renewable energy in a single month

Solar Japan: some of the world’s most attractive feed-in-tariffs

In the single month of March 2014 Japan approved almost as much renewable energy projects as all solar ever installed in Germany

Japan’s ten regional electricity monopoly operators traditionally kept renewable energy below 1% following an unwritten rule. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) kept renewable well below this magic 1% limit – until recently TEPCO’s renewable energy ratio was about 0.05%, slightly “greener” than Kansai, and Shikoku Electrical Power Companies with 0.03% renewables, and Chugoku Electrical Power Company with 0.02% of renewables in their energy mix.

Complete reversal of Japan’s previous “no renewables” strategy

Switching off all nuclear power stations combined with extremely high natural gas (LNG) prices forced change of this “no renewables” strategy in Japan, and Japan quickly moved in the opposite direction with some of the highest feed-in-tariffs globally, about three times higher than in Germany. (To understand the details of LNG costs and prices for Japan, read our Japan Energy Report, where you’ll find month-by-month data of Japan’s coal and gas payments, as well as the price developments and the reasons for the extraordinarily high prices Japan pays for LNG and LPG).

solar japan : Driven by high LNG costs Japan approves almost as much solar energy projects in a single month as ever installed in Germany
Driven by high LNG costs Japan approves almost as much solar energy projects in a single month as ever installed in Germany

Solar plants ever installed in Germany total about 36.5 GigaWatt – Japan almost approved as much renewables in the single month of March 2014

Germany’s Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur) published detailed data of solar energy projects installed and approved for subsidy in Germany. As of May 31, 2014, all solar power ever installed and approved for subsidy in Germany amounts to 36.5 GigaWatt (peak). The figure above shows that Japan’s Industry Ministry METI approved about 26.7 GigaWatt of solar projects under the feed-in-tariff program during the single month of March 2014 alone.

Here are the actual figures of renewable electrical power projects approved by METI under the FIT program during the single month of March 2014 alone:

solar projects less than 10kW: 159,070kW = 0.16GW
solar projects over 10kW: 26,521,483kW = 26.5GW
Subtotal solar (all sizes): 26,680,553kW = 26.7GW
Total all types of renewable energy: 27,436,598kW = 27.4GW

The figure also shows that March 2014 is somewhat an anomaly – because feed-in-tariffs are reduced each year on April 1 at the beginning of the new financial year, METI cooperates with applicants to approve large numbers of applications during the last month of the previous tariff. Thus renewable project applications in Japan have developed an annual rhythm.

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  • Yoshimi_nz

    The data here is inaccurate – Solar 26.5 GW Japan.

  • g_fasol

    Dear Yoshimi-san, thank you for your comment, but we take the official data from the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry METI and from the German Netzagentur.

    METI’s published data for approvals under the FIT program for March 2014 are:

    solar power plants less than 10kW: 159,070kW
    solar power plants over 10kW: 26,521,483kW
    Total approved during March 2014: 26,680,553kW = 26.7 GigaWatt

    You are right we had an error of 0.5 GigaWatt and corrected this above.

    I think your figure of 26.5GW is also inaccurate, you need to add the solar power plants less than 10kW as well – then you get the correct 26.7 GigaWatt figure.

  • Peter Erik Fuchs

    Hi Gerhard:

    I keep looking at this chart from METI and come back to the conclusion the numbers don’t add up.

    Is it possible they erroneously used kW instead of MW here?

    For example, the non-residential certified PV shown here is just 63MW (as shown in the red circle) i.e. 63 million kW.

    I am usually OK with converting man and oku into their western equivalents.

    Help me out on this one!


    ps: I have immense respect for the quality of your research and publications.

    Just one more question. What is the average useful production level for typical solar PV installations?

    Nuclear in the US runs at about 86% of rated capacity, but surely solar PV is a small fraction of that with daylight hours, cloud cover, weather and so on.

    I suppose there are also load balancing factors that may reduce actual useable solar, at least until the grid is made smarter.

    Would it be fair to say in Japan solar PV runs at 20%-25% of rated? That would still be a large addition to electric supply if those 65 GW of solar are completed.

    At 25% say, there would be 16.25GW of juice coming to the grid. Would it not make sense for the Abe people to make a much stronger appeal to the public about the rapid progress made thanks to the FIT? Would it not be a useful argument for turning on a dozen of the “most reliable” reactors for a limited duration during which these 65 GW, and additional increments, are built out?

    The new national energy policy was seen (by proponents of renewables at least) as a capitulation to heavy industry and Keidanren. Why not have your cake and eat it too, by leveraging the positive announcement effete, ie. the same dramatic headline you used in your report? Abenomics would get more “green” approval ratings by highlighting the FIT I think.

  • g_fasol


    thanks for your questions. Actually its not 63MW.
    its 63,037,677kW = 63037MW = 63GW.

    On the document you sent me by email – the number inside the red circle is:
    6303.8万kW = 63038MW = 63GW

    you missed a factor of 1000 somewhere, probably you misinterpreted the period or comma.

    I checked out both the short form document you sent me by email, and also some much more detailed data base documents which we use for our analysis, and all the numbers are consistent – no problem.

  • g_fasol


    regarding your two other points. Of course for all power generation nominal peak power is not the same as the total annual electrical energy actual produced and sold to the grid, or to end consumers. As you say, for solar weather etc plays a role, as does aging of solar panels.

    For solar in Japan, of course the actual annual output depends on location, orientation, weather, aging etc. As a typical example, a 1MW solar plant in Japan could be expected to deliver about 1275 MWh annual electricity, i.e. an efficiency of about 15% of theoretical peak power if the sun would be shining full blast 24 hours x 365 days/year.

    Regarding the second part – about the politics: I’m not a politician at all, but I can speak for physics, engineering, maths and logic. Maybe the best I can recommend you is to watch my interview for The Economist, where I am interviewed about my comments on Prime Minister Abe’s new energy policy: