Japan's Solar Future Beginning to Look Less Bright
As the second anniversary of a plan to boot renewable energy focus in Japan rolls around, it looks like things might not pan out. The plan initially came in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis, though the country’s energy industry is now making moves that critics say will stifle solar investment and focus the country back on nuclear power.
If the plan were successful, it the country would surpass Germany for the biggest consumer of solar power.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) has slashed solar tariffs by a fifth over the past two years and imposed time limits on installations. The rationale for this is that while costs for solar have gone down, the time for installations has gone way up, with only 13 percent of approved projects actually up and running.
The solar industry believes that this move is senseless and discourages investments in the renewable sector.
"I really can't understand what METI is up to,” President and CEO of Pacifica Capital K.K., a Tokyo-based solar power and commercial real estate developer, Seth Sulkin said. “It certainly appears they are trying to kill or at least severely curtail solar development."
Making the shift back to nuclear energy clearer, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe abandoned the previous ruling party’s nuclear-free policy and has called for the restarting of many of the country’s nuclear power plants.
METI officials said that the system needs reforming and the industry admits that the industry pre-2012 was riddled with problems.
"The new measures were not implemented to discourage solar, rather they were implemented to make the system fairer," a METI official explained. "There have been declines in costs of building solar projects since the FIT (feed-in-tariff) system started, and the cost declines have been reflected in the price, while the internal rate of return has not been changed.”
Out of the 66 GW of planned in Japan, only 8.7 GW are active as of March 31.
The solar industry has been plagued by a lack of qualified technicians, approval delays, issues with land titles, and those waiting for equipment costs to fall.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom for the industry. The PV Japan show kicks off this week and the industry is becoming more focused on smaller, easily-deployable solar projects. Companies are diversifying and taking new approaches to the industry.
This week also saw the partnership of First Solar and Japan’s XSOL.
"Japanese policymakers didn't expect this kind of explosive introduction of PVs and that combined with a lack of knowledge of cost, structures and how PVs work, led to mistakes being made," Mika Ohbayashi, a director at the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, said.
While the future for solar may not be entirely bright, there’s still a ray hope for the immediate future.
Trafigura and Yara International explore clean ammonia usage
Reducing shipping emissions is a vital component of the fight against global climate change, yet Greenhouse Gas emissions from the global maritime sector are increasing - and at odds with the IMO's strategy to cut absolute emissions by at least 50% by 2050.
How more than 70,000 ships can decrease their reliance on carbon-based sources is one of transport's most pressing decarbonisation challenges.
Yara and Trafigura intend to collaborate on initiatives that will establish themselves in the clean ammonia value chain. Under the MoU announced today, Trafigura and Yara intend to work together in the following areas:
- The supply of clean ammonia by Yara to Trafigura Group companies
- Exploration of joint R&D initiatives for clean ammonia application as a marine fuel
- Development of new clean ammonia assets including marine fuel infrastructure and market opportunities
Magnus Krogh Ankarstrand, President of Yara Clean Ammonia, said the agreement is a good example of cross-industry collaboration to develop and promote zero-emission fuel in the form of clean ammonia for the shipping industry. "Building clean ammonia value chains is critical to facilitate the transition to zero emission fuels by enabling the hydrogen economy – not least within trade and distribution where both Yara and Trafigura have leading capabilities. Demand and supply of clean ammonia need to be developed in tandem," he said.
There is a growing consensus that hydrogen-based fuels will ultimately be the shipping fuels of the future, but clear and comprehensive regulation is essential, according to Jose Maria Larocca, Executive Director and Co-Head of Oil Trading for Trafigura.
Ammonia has a number of properties that require "further investigation," according to Wartsila. "It ignites and burns poorly compared to other fuels and is toxic and corrosive, making safe handling and storage important. Burning ammonia could also lead to higher NOx emissions unless controlled either by aftertreatment or by optimising the combustion process," it notes.
Trafigura has co-sponsored the R&D of MAN Energy Solutions’ ammonia-fuelled engine for maritime vessels, has performed in-depth studies of transport fuels with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and has published a white paper on the need for a global carbon levy for shipping fuels to be introduced by International Maritime Organization.
Oslo-based Yara produces roughly 8.5 million tonnes of ammonia annually and employs a fleet of 11 ammonia carriers, including 5 fully owned ships, and owns 18 marine ammonia terminals with 580 kt of storage capacity – enabling it to produce and deliver ammonia across the globe.
It recently established a new clean ammonia unit to capture growth opportunities in emission-free fuel for shipping and power, carbon-free fertilizer and ammonia for industrial applications.