Mitsubishi JV inaugurates 21MW solar farm in heartland of recent disputes

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An inauguration ceremony has been held in Tokushima, Japan, to mark the start of operation of a 21MW solar farm constructed by Mitsubishi Corporation and its joint venture (JV) partner Nippon Paper Industries.

The plant was completed at the beginning of February, with the official ceremony held on Friday. The 25-hectare site is in Komatsushima-Shi, Tokushima Prefecture, which is on the island of Shikoku, just south of the main Japanese island Honshu. PV Tech reported on the project in May 2013, as planning got underway.

The two partners in the project have a 50% stake each, through their JV, Nippon Paper Mega Solar Komatsushima Limited Liability Company. Mitsubishi claims to have developed 140MW of solar to date at utility-scale locations in Japan, while Nippon Paper Industries intends its solar power generation business to become the company’s primary source of revenue in future.

Electricity from the 21MW Tokushima project will be sold under the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme to local utility Shikoku Electric Power, which is responsible for the island’s electricity sales as well as its grid infrastructure.

Shikoku Electric Power had been among the five Japanese electric power companies that stopped considering applications for utility-scale solar projects late last year. This had happened as a result of one utility, Kyushu Electric, raising concerns that it would in the near future be struggling to add approved projects to the grid as it neared full capacity.

The resumption of the utilities’ consideration of PV projects for their respective grids and a review of the FiT itself, has led to a resolution of sorts. Many commentators are satisfied with the need for a review and for changes to be made to the grid connection process, but nonetheless described some of the measures taken as strict. Another continuing source of controversy is the question of when Japan’s shuttered nuclear reactors will go back online – not only because of antipathy towards nuclear itself, but also because available grid capacity that could go to PV projects is instead being ‘kept aside’ to accommodate all 50-plus of Japan’s returning nuclear facilities – even though it is likely they will only be switched back on at a rate of two or three a year at most.

However, going forward, the return of nuclear energy could mean that in the short term solar will get a boost, because the Japanese government is keen to put together a policy on the total energy mix. By working out how much of the total energy supply should come from each source, including nuclear, the government will also set a definite target for renewable energy.

It seems also that long term, Japan is willing to bet on technologies such as batteries and hydrogen fuel cells to ease its relatively weak energy supply situation. Also forthcoming is the long-awaited energy liberalisation policy that will effectively ‘divorce’ the utilities from their regional grid infrastructure and allow consumers a greater choice of electricity supplier. Expected to start in 2016, the issue seems to be growing in importance, with next week’s Tokyo PV Expo co-located with a show dedicated to energy market liberalisation, as well as shows dedicated to batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. A number of solar industry companies have already expressed an interest in joining the electricity retail market.

Read more about Japan's latest challenges and the domestic solar industry's outlook for the future in Volume 2 of PV Tech Power, available to read online now.

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