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Renewable energy

Japan biomass electricity generation booming

Japan biomass electricity generation approaches 4 GigaWatt

Renewables in Japan is not just solar…

Looking superficially at Japan’s renewable energy sector, its easy to overestimate geo-thermal energy, and to underestimate biomass.

Biomass electricity generation capacity is about 5 times higher than geo-thermal

Japan biomass - Biomass electricity generation capacity in Japan approaches 4 GigaWatt
Biomass electricity generation capacity in Japan approaches 4 GigaWatt

Currently the installed biomass electricity generation capacity is about 5 times higher than for geo-thermal energy production – a fact often overlooked in superficial discussions.

Biomass electricity production is included in Japan’s new feed-in-tariff program which started in July 2012, and is also very generous.

The figure above shows approvals for electricity generation projects from biomass under the new feed-in-tariff program, and demonstrates that after a slow start, approvals are now picking up. The sum of biomass generation facilities operating before the introduction of the new feed-in-tariffs plus approvals since July 2012 approaches 4 GigaWatt, which corresponds approximately to the generation capacity of 4 nuclear reactors.

Understand Japan’s renewable energy

Our report on Japan’s Renewable Energy Sector (pdf file, approx. 219 pages)

Understand Japan’s energy sector

Our report on Japan’s Energy Sector (pdf file, approx. 227 pages)

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Renewable energy

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.

“Renewable energy Japan” research report

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Renewable energy

94% of renewable energy projects approved under Japan’s feed-in-tariff programs are for solar energy generation

Japan’s feed in tariff for renewable energy

Almost all projects are for solar energy

Feed-in-tariffs for renewable energy where introduced in two stages in Japan. Large scale introduction of feed-in-tariffs (FIT) started with the Law entitled “Special measures concerning renewable energy electric power procurement by operators of electrical utilities law” which came into force on July 1, 2012. However, subsidies and feed-in-tariffs were already in place earlier for residential solar (mostly on roof-tops of private homes). Projects approved under the FIT program of July 1, 2012 amount to an increase of 41% in nominal renewable electrical generation capacity. Feed-in-tariffs however are not the whole story, because there are also programs for financial support, special finance arrangements, and tax benefits, and other support programs.

Renewable energy projects approved under Japan's feed-in-tariff program increased renewable energy generation capacity by 41.4% sofar
Renewable energy projects approved under Japan’s feed-in-tariff program increased renewable energy generation capacity by 41.4% sofar

Under the law feed-in-tariffs are periodically reviewed and adjusted. In fact, feed-in-tariffs for solar energy have already been reduced by about 10% this year and are likely to be decreased further next year. For some types of feed-in-tariffs however, increases are under discussions – thus the FIT-tariffs for off-shore wind maybe increased in the future.

Since feed-in-tariffs for solar are set for a period of 20 years, and are decreased periodically, there is great incentive to start solar installations as early as possible, in fact some Mega-Solar plants were switched on on July 1, 2012 to use every possible day. Currently there is a rush of solar operators starting up and expanding in Japan – exactly the effect the Government had intended by setting high feed-in-tariffs.

Project approvals under Japan's feed-in-tariff program for renewable energy are 93.8% for solar plants
Project approvals under Japan’s feed-in-tariff program for renewable energy are 93.8% for solar plants

The renewable energy mix approved under the FIT program is very different to Japan’s traditional renewable energy mix, which was predominantly large scale water power plants

Prior to the introduction of feed-in-tariffs, renewable energy in Japan was predominantly large scale (greater than 1 MegaWatt) water power
Prior to the introduction of feed-in-tariffs, renewable energy in Japan was predominantly large scale (greater than 1 MegaWatt) water power.

Renewable energy Japan report

detailed statistical data for installed renewable capacity and electricity generation and analysis

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