Japan Seems to Be Stepping in the Right Direction

Ever since the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Japan has struggled with how to meet its energy needs. Imports (and use) of fossil fuels make up for roughly 33% of the energy lost not only because of Fukushima but also as a result of nuclear plants being shutdown nationwide following the disaster.

To help reduce power consumption amid these losses, post-disaster setsuden, or power-saving initiatives, were implemented around Japan. These initially included rolling blackouts in some cities along with buildings and landmarks going dark. While these measures certainly helped, they don’t seem to be as commonly practiced a few years after the fact. And while “cool biz” (cool business, seemingly more of a marketing strategy word play, looking cool and feeling cool) is accepted by most companies, the heat and humidity are both unbearable 3-4 months a year in much of Japan, tie or no tie.

Only recently there have been headlines about Japan’s first nuclear plant to come back online and this hasn’t been without controversy and delays stemming from mechanical problems. Additionally, despite the desperate need for cleaner energy, much of the public now opposes the operation of nuclear plants anywhere in the country.

So, with the recent announcement of plans for a 6.7 megawatt (MW) solar power generation plant in Kitakyushu City (KKC), Fukuoka Prefecture, this seems a step in the right direction to provide additional sources of energy. The plant is currently scheduled to become operational by December 2015. Seriously, that quick? Impressive! Furthermore, in Kyushu alone, solar power plants have recently been or are being built in Miyazaki and Kagoshima respectively. Seems the solar revolution is really taking Japan by storm as Fukushima, Gunma, Yamanashi and Nara Prefectures also have projects in the works.

The Kitakyushu plant—NS Wakamatsu Daiichi Daini Daisan Solar Power Plant (NSWDDDSPP, just kidding, but this is Japan, so probably)—will consist of a staggering 26,712 solar panels over an area approximately 93,500 square m (approx. 1 million sq.ft), and is expected to generate approximately 7,200,000 kWh of electricity. This is roughly equivalent to the amount consumed by 1,990 households in a year. While impressive, Kitakyushu has a population of approximately 1 million and the surrounding cities push that up considerably.

With the already too numerous plants and manufacturing facilities in the area, and some industrial neighborhoods actually having such strong pungent smells that joggers, cyclists and pedestrians alike gag for fresh air,  who would want to be burning more coal or oil for energy? Nuclear power anyone? Oh yeah, um NO! Though Kitakyushu did actually take some of Fukushima’s nuclear garbage to incinerate, it was certainly not popular with the majority of citizens in KKC or the surrounding cities.

KKC has long been known as a blue collar city, especially steel manufacturing, where industry giant, Nippon Steel operates a handful of subsidiaries. In fact, in a joint venture, one of those subsidiaries will be responsible for the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services. Toshiba Corp and Toshiba Mitsubishi-Electric Industrial Systems Corp are providing the solar panels and PV inverters, so as one would assume, these types of public works projects should do a lot to stimulate the Japanese economy.

In all honesty, despite KKC’s reputation as a somewhat gritty manufacturing hub, in recent years efforts have been made to make the area cleaner and more tourist friendly.  This includes restoring Kokura Castle in 1990, and promoting nature spots like Sarakura Mountain (皿倉山), the Hiraodai Limestone Karst Plateau (平尾台), Kawachi Dam and Reservoir (河内ダム)—which was actually originally made to supply water to the steel plants in the area—and the nearby Kawachi Wisteria Garden (河内藤園).  Mojiko Retro (門司港レトロ), is also quite popular, and aimed specifically at creating more tourism.

That said, tourism is a minor part of the city’s economy and that most likely won’t change anytime soon, but at least NSWDDDSPP is a demonstration of real progress made with creating more sources of clean energy not only in this city but around Japan as a whole.

H/T: Nikkei Technology