Megasolar rush a band-aid on a bullet hole
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.