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Megasolar rush a band-aid on a bullet hole

33 Comments

While an unseasonably chilly spring lingers over Japan, summer is only a few months away. With the nation's 54 nuclear power generators shut down for safety inspections -- or over concerns of their ability to withstand natural disasters -- Japan will be facing an unprecedented pinch on electric power by the end of the rainy season in early July.

Demand is already soaring for petroleum and natural gas to fuel the country's thermal reactors, and the added costs will be passed on to consumers. While homes can expect increases of from 17 to 41 yen per month, TEPCO is planning to hit its major users with an rate increase of around 17%.

Aside from juggling factory schedules and encouraging power conservation, can't anything else be done in the short term?

J-Cast News (March 27) reports rapid moves are already under way to build "megasolar" farms, utilizing photovoltaic panels that collect sunshine and convert it to electricity. While the amounts of power they generate is limited, every little bit helps, and some of these will be up and running by this summer.

SB Energy, an affiliate of the Softbank Group headed by Masayoshi Son, has announced plans to construct megasolar farms in four prefectures, including two plants in Kyoto Prefecture, plus one each in Gunma, Tochigi and Tokushima.

One solar plant in Kyoto will be situated in Fushimi Ward, on a land fill covering 89,800 square meters. It will consist of 17,000 photovoltaic panels supplied by Kyocera Corporation, with SB Energy entrusted with operation and sales. The city will offer the land free of charge until the initial investment is recovered, which is expected to take a decade or longer.

Two units are expected to commence operation in July and September, respectively, and will have capacity to supply 4.2 million kilowatts per hour, sufficient for up to 1,000 households.

Construction of the Gunma facility is expected to begin from this month. Located on the site of a former golf course at Shinto village in the Hasshu Highlands, it will cover a 50,000 square-meter area and will be equipped with panels supplied by Sharp. It will have a capability of 2.68 million kilowatts, claimed sufficient to supply 640 homes for one year.

Other local governments are reported to be in favor of construction of megasolar plants. One of them, in an agricultural district adjacent to Minami Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, believes it will aid in recovery from the nuclear accident.

To float the idea to the government, Minami-Soma mayor Katsunobu Sakurai and Softbank president Son visited the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on March 19.

The nuclear accident exclusion zone at Minami-Soma includes 854 hectares of agricultural land. But even if parts are given the all clear for farmers to return, concerns (or unfounded rumors) over high radiation are likely to require time until the district can return to productivity. Construction of a megasolar farm, which would pay rent to the land owners, would assist in recovery while providing surrounding communities with power.

Despite the area they require, megasolar farms are limited in their output capacity; capability of a single farm ranges from one-one thousandth to one several hundredths that of a nuclear reactor. But if the land is made available for their construction, they can be completed in several months' time, and be supplying power by this summer.

A source in the power industry says that to match a nuclear reactor's 1 million kilowatt hours of output, a megasolar farm would require an area equivalent to Tokyo's Yamanote loop line. And needless to say, power generation of the latter is affected by such factors as the duration of sunshine.

"In order to achieve a balance between supply and demand of electricity, adjustments will have to be made with the supply of thermal power," an industry source tells J-Cast News.

© Japan Today

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33 Comments
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How TEPCO is still a going concern is beyond me... of course to make up the shortfall for their incompetence, they'll start gouging everyone and their dead relatives

on to the topic... it certainly looks like for the time being Japan will be importing a lot of their energy needs to make up the difference. Surely there are other means of power generation that can be used like geothermal, tidal, and wind

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Well that convinced me, we need to turn back on all the nuclear power plants. Perhaps we should even build more! Yes, utterly convinced now.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Homes can expect increases of "17 to 41 Yen per month"? Really? Most people can manage that without it causing hardship. Or are the numbers wrong?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

People seem to keep missing this point, even though it comes up time and time again in both mainstream media as well as in expert reports, but the problem with alternative energy resources is that they provide but a fraction of what nuclear reactors do, and yes, even traditional thermal power plants burning coal or oil.

Just because this reality doesn't jibe with someone's particular hard-on against anything and everything nuclear doesn't magically negate it.

Without nuclear, Japan will have to use traditional thermal power plants. Solar, geothermal, tidal -- NONE, once more for the cheap seats, NONE of these methods can come even remotely close to offsetting the loss of nuclear power. And NONE of them can stand as viable replacements for fossil fuel energy production. Not a single one. Not in tandem. Not collectively. Not even if Japan were to magically have all possible renewable energy sources and their requisite infrastructures up and running tomorrow morning.

The tech isn't there yet and won't be, according to some estimates, for another 30~50 years.

So here's the long and short of it: We're going to pay for the loss of nuclear through our wallets for a very long time to come. Production costs, transports of goods, and all the associated costs of a consumer economy are going to go up significantly in the coming year. Hope everyone's ready to tighten their wallets and belts.

3 ( +10 / -6 )

"People seem to keep missing this point,...the problem with alternative energy resources is that they provide but a fraction of what nuclear reactors do"

And the answer you keep missing is that the nuke plants are shut down, and there is still enough electricity, in spite of "expert" reports that there wasn't enough to get us this far. Japan does not need nuclear plants, and does not need to equal the capacity that the nuke plants had when they were running. If they did, we wouldn't be reading this, but would be relying on smoke signals.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

The "megasolar" approach is entirely the wrong direction for a land-poor country like Japan. Sure buildings should invest in solar glass and similar technologies that exploit "wasted" space in order to offset energy requirements during peak hours, however Japan simply doesn't have the land mass required for huge solar farms.

Wind power (can be set up offshore like in Holland), hydro-electric power (optimising existing hydro-electric power sources, many of which are outdated), geothermal power (tons of onsens in Japan!), and better than all of these wave power (which can be configured in times of emergency to dampen the effects of tsunami!).

... but solar? It has limited application in Japan.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

People should be encouraged to add solar cells to their houses; over time that would create significant capacity. It would also remove dependence on TEPCO for those in Tokyo. I'm not sure if covering fields with solar cells is a good idea though: what are we supposed to eat?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@Fungry,

I hear what you are saying, (sorts of anyway). And I would like to see more of all the alternatives that you mentioned. But solar has a couple of thing going for it.

1 Solar (PV) is quick to set up, and easy to expand. 2 Solar energy production time curve, matches the demand curve quite well for Japan. By that I mean; Peak solar energy production, is the middle of the day on sunny days. Which quite exactly matches peak demand according to power companies.

I do however, like Scrote see solar as more of a "Close to consumer" production method. Where roof areas of businesses and houses could be efficiently utilized. New production methods are cutting the costs of silica based solar cells in half, so hopefully prices will go down even further.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Squidbert - I agree with the "close to consumer" verdict and also see solar as a power reduction (as opposed to power production) measure.

My objection is to the "mega" in "megasolar", which implies large solar "farms", which Japan simply doesn't have the space for. Rather people should be going with the "close to consumer" approach for solar.

And to the Japanese government's credit they do seem to be pushing this approach, although with more of a "stick" than a "carrot" approach.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Softbank have also announced it will build a 200MW solar plant in Hokaido.

Nanotechnology is helping to improve the efficiency of solar generated power by removing the need for batteries to store the power and it's also helping to decease the size and cost of the panels.

I also favor off shore wind turbine plants which instead of generating power they produce compressed air stored in bags on the ocean floor which in turn is used to generate power at peak demand times. This overcomes the problem of not having the power when most needed.

Something similar could be done with over night power. It can produce compressed air which can be used to generate power at peak times. This would also be cheaper than hydro pumped stations.

With a 10% decrease in power consumption because of more efficient use of power and a 10% increase in geothermal power would offset most of the power loss from not using nuclear energy.

TEPCO have refused to take wood chips from the disaster zone in Miyagi to burn in their thermal plants?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Farmboy,

Apparently, you're employing selective reading when you claim I'm missing any sort of point. I haven't missed anything. Never said the shortfall couldn't be met with traditional fossil fuel sources. I said that the cost of power is going to get a lot more expensive when all is said and done, particularly in the current volatile global oil market. The Iran situation is just one example that pops to the top of the list, along with Japan's promise to cut back on import from Iran in order to prod the Iranians into -- wait for it.... wait for it...! -- abondon its nuclear programs. Oh, the irony. Gotta' love it.

"Japan does not need nuclear plants, and does not need to equal the capacity that the nuke plants had when they were running. If they did, we wouldn't be reading this, but would be relying on smoke signals."

Nuclear plants weren't built in Japan to meet some need greater need for electricity above and beyond what fossil fuels could address. They were built to liberate Japan from fickle international fuel markets. And suddenly cutting the national power grid off cold-turkey from some 30 years of largely nuclear-based electricity is going to result in the consumer paying through the nose for what essentially amounts to bat-s#it crazy hysteria at the merest mention of the word "nuclear."

Nuclear power can be and is regularly used quite safely throughout the world. France is just one place to look for successful application. It's people like those who run TEPCO who are the danger. Greater oversight and more realistic catastrophic failure projections can mitigate virtually everything that went wrong at not only the Fukushima plants, but also at Cherynobl and Three-Mile Island. Human error is always what screws things up. I think you and I can at least agree on that point.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

It's worth to look abroad in order to see how Japan is missing it's chance. Take Germany for example who have decided to phase out nuclear power within one decade. In 2011 they have brought online about 7.5GW of solar power, which is the equivalent of 6~7 nuclear power plants. In one year only! Now some people will say that this is peak power only and it will not be available when the sun doesn't shine or when you have cloudy wheather. True. But when you have a situation like in Japan where there is a strong correlation between sunshine and power consumption you can use the capacity very effectively - without need for any storage.

The Japanese government targets a total capacity of installed solar capacity for 2020 which is roughly what Germany has already installed today. Only a tiny fraction of the German installations are large solar farms, almost everything is roof-top.

Solar energy is not the one and only answer to our energy demand. Japan has overall more favorable environmental conditions compared to Germany and a dire need for new energy sources, especially in the short term. The above numbers show what could be done. Clearly, Japan doesn't make use of the potential of solar power.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Nuclear power can be and is regularly used quite safely throughout the world. France is just one place to look for successful application. It's people like those who run TEPCO who are the danger.

QFT here. Toss aside your national pride, GOJ, and import nuclear power experts from France to manage the plants lock, stock, and barrel.

Japan is in for a long, miserable decline if these nuclear power plants never come back on-line, not just because of increased power costs but also from the loss in productivity that comes from 28-degree office temperatures A fatigue-inspired bad decision here, an exhausted employee falling asleep at his desk there. More incidents of people mentally snapping and lashing out at the people around them. Almost too small to quantify individually, but the incidents that these long hot summers will create are going to make people's quality of life suffer.

Fossil fuels aren't much good for the environment either, but the anti-nuke hysteria has people totally ignoring this fact. Sure, ramp up the solar and wind production; build those solar farms as fast as you can. But keep nuclear around as a bridge to the time when those are ready. Cutting nuclear off cold turkey is an emotion-based solution that will cause many more problems than it solves.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

I think Softbank, Mr.Son is on to something! He is already rich, and with the mess Tokyo Electric has us in, he will be even more rich and help us out here in Japan get SOLAR ENERGY to our homes, sure it will not be easy but it is a step in the right direction!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"4.2 million kilowatts per hour", that is 4.2 Gigawatts! Must be an error.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

(17,000 photovoltaic panels) X (210 watts per panel) = 3.6 million watts. Get the facts straight.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

While it might be desirable to encourage individual home owners to install solar cells on their homes, the increasing number of pensioners are certainly not going to be able to afford it, even if it becomes much cheaper. Considering the available roof space per resident in a condominium or apartment, the solution isn't that attractive/viable for a lot of people not living in single dwellings, either. Even with the best of intentions, the will and drive to act now, and the funds to invest, solar plus all other available non-fossil-based alternatives just aren't going to be enough, by a very wide margin, IMO, in anything like the near future. OPEC et al must be very happy right now.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sorry about the italics goof.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yet another example of incompetence in journalism!

Two units are expected to commence operation in July and September, respectively, and will have capacity to supply 4.2 million kilowatts per hour, sufficient for up to 1,000 households.

There really is no excuse for someone writing about electricity supply to screw up the units. Watts are used to express power, i.e. the amount of energy transferred (or converted) in a given unit of time, hence 'kilowatts per hour' is plain wrong (unless, of course, you are talking about a rate of change of power).

And in English, 4.2 million kilowatts is expressed as 4.2 gigawatts.

According to that part of the article, the average household uses at least 4.2 megawatts. My household uses about one thousandth of that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Stonecoldsoba,

Yeah it would be nice if they could get it right.

I guess maybe they meant to say:

will have capacity to supply 4.2 million kilowatt hours (4.2 gigawatt hours) per year ?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

4.2 Gigawatts would be about 20,000,000 panels which would cost about US$25 billion to procure and install.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan is not only land poor, but it is also solar poor. There are maps out there kids showing solar strong, medium and weak areas. Japan is low medium. Start drilling the Japan Sea.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Japan is not only land poor

For agriculture yes. But something like 80 percent of land in Japan is totally unused, and much of that could be utilized for wind farms as well as solar, despite the fact that Japan is not ideal for solar.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

To think, my car only needs 1.21 gigawatts..................

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Most of that 70-80% of unused land is unusable for agriculture or dwellings, because it's too mountainous. Given the need for regular maintenance of wind generators, relatively inaccessible areas are far from ideal for "wind farms". There's the problem with setting up and maintaining power transmission lines from them, too. Anyone who has been to the more remote, snowy areas of Japan can appreciate the problem.

I recall a proposal to put a wind generation facility in Nagano that has been stalled for a while due to ecological considerations regarding local fauna, and one in operation in Hokkaido has had trouble with endangering birds (I believe they've painted the turbines red and lit them up, but I don't know if it has worked). There were similar issues with the big one on the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay, I remember, some years ago.

There may be human health issues locating wind farms near populated areas, related to infrasound, and the one that snapped off at its base a couple of years ago under wind strength far below what it was supposed to withstand has understandably discouraged people from wanting one near their house.

Offshore wind farms are probably much more practical (barring the odd tsunami...), but not cheap to build or to maintain. There are only a few operating offshore here now, I believe, and still pretty small-scale if I recall correctly.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

For such a small country as Japan with a high population density, I propose Thorium Reactors. Land is precious in Japan so using as little of it to generate the most power is advisable. Since convention reactors are at risk for meltdowns, then a LFTR Thorium Reactor would be the safest bet. Japan even has the technology. It just needs investors to help move things along.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Correction: Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (Th-MSR) not LFTR.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@mustard Wind here is very inconsistent. April and May ok, but other than that very little.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

People should be encouraged to add solar cells to their houses; over time that would create significant capacity. It would also remove dependence on TEPCO for those in Tokyo. I'm not sure if covering fields with solar cells is a good idea though: what are we supposed to eat?

I've suggested it before: People should not be just encouraged. Installation of PV panels on all newly constructed buildings should be mandatory which is far less expensive than a retrofit. The government should offer financial assistance and the utilities be obliged to buy excess power for reasonable prices allowing the systems to pay for themselves in 10 to 15 years. The space for PV panels is on rooftops, not on arable land.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Balefire Apr. 06, 2012 - 08:07PM JST Most of that 70-80% of unused land is unusable for agriculture or dwellings, because it's too mountainous. Given the need for regular maintenance of wind generators, relatively inaccessible areas are far from ideal for "wind farms". There's the problem with setting up and maintaining power transmission lines from them, too. Anyone who has been to the more remote, snowy areas of Japan can appreciate the problem.

These considerations also make the land unsuitable for solar power, but that still leaves geothermal and (my personal favorite) ocean power. Ocean power makes the most sense for a lot of reasons. (a) Most of Japan's major population centres are coastal. (b) Ocean power is more predictable, allowing for a regular power supply (wind and sunlight levels can vary widely and unpredictably, but tides are literally as regular as clockwork and always in motion), (c) Ocean power stations would double as tsunami defences, with increased variable resistance levels slowing incoming tsunami without damage to the structures, (d) Ocean power would require less land than even existing power stations (just small power relay stations. (e) If there's an accident the impact would be minimal since they're away from humans (and fish can't sue), etc.

Despite this ocean power doesn't even appear to be being considered for one of the largest island nations in the world. Idiotic.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We're going to pay for the loss of nuclear through our wallets for a very long time to come.

So instead, we're financially burdened with HAVING nuclear power. An entire region, a place that was once a productive food-producing area, had its economy wiped out. And the local population will be living off state benefits for, yes, a very long time to come, including purpose built housing, etc. That's placing a huge economic burden on the country, particularly on us taxpayers and Tepco customers. Prepare to tighten your belt!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Build a large triangular pyramid ramp over the reactors, cut in venting fans at the tops, make it sturdy and lead lined.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

About installing solar panels on a home (like mine - during construction a few years ago), the initial costs will not be offset for nearly 20 years in reality(compared to the projected ten years) if ever. That's factoring in tax incentives, using new and more efficient appliances, gas stove & water heater, near-optimal southern exposure, and frugal usage. There are maybe 30 summer days that produce more than we consume during the midday hours. The charts and graphs presented to the would-be buyer are unrealistic at best. Looks good on paper, but doesn't deliver in reality, even with the top makers. I know several other homeowners with similar or worse results. My ideal would be to be off-grid entirely, but that seems a pipe-dream unless you have a huge ranch-style spread and panels everywhere.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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