As the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant continues to leak radiation, Japan is turning its sights away from atomic power and towards solar energy. At the end of 2012, the country had installed solar power-generating arrays that provide a total 7.4GW capacity. According to Bloomberg analysts, that number is expected to double. The explosive growth, thanks to a feed-in tariff established by former prime minister, Naoto Kan, could establish Japan as the second fastest emerging solar market behind China and trailing only Germany and Italy in size of installed infrastructure.

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Although more expensive than imported fossil fuels or nuclear energy, Japan is nevertheless moving towards more renewable sources. After the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the nation shuttered 50 of its nuclear facilities, restarting only two. While the shutdowns could be temporary, public opinion, policy, and an emerging clean energy market are moving the country towards a greener future. A feed-in tariff was introduced by the previous prime minister with the intention of making renewables one-fifth of the energy portfolio by the 2020s. Currently, they only account for 10% and come primarily from hydroelectric sources.

Launched in July, the legislation requires utility companies to purchase renewable energy at fixed prices from both individuals and private companies. Set at an artificially high price, the feed-in tariff is meant to spur investments in start-up projects. So far, many farmers, lumber companies, and local governments have been taking advantage of the ability to make some extra money with the installation of solar panels. They are able to sell their extra power at a rate fixed for twenty years, and when the tariff was first introduced could receive compensation at a rate twice that of Germany or France.

However, the development does come at a price to consumers. Before the tariff, Japan had some of the globe’s highest energy costs. Even when 15GW of already approved solar projects become available, bills could still increase by 5%. Even so, with the potential to create a source of ample domestic electricity without the hidden cleanup and operating costs of nuclear power, Japan is looking towards a brighter clean energy future.

Via the Guardian

Images via Wikicommons users Kreuzschnabel and the US Navy.