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The working group established by the Japanese government to deal with grid connection issues for solar and other new energy generation capacity met for the first time last week.

Japan’s grid capacity fears have been well documented – with a recent and dramatic development being that several regional grids have suspended approvals for new solar projects over 10kW. The working group was scheduled to meet on Thursday 16 October, with PV Tech informed of the founding of the group by a Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) spokesman. PV Tech was not able to reach METI for a comment on the proceedings of the group on Monday morning, but the group’s findings are expected to be made public soon.

The group is made up of academic experts, chaired by Kazuhiko Ogimoto, an engineering professor at the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo. Also involved are four other academics, including Yumiko Iwafune, an electrical engineering and energy systems professor also at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science and Toshihiro Matsumura, from the university’s Institute of Social Science.

Despite a strong feed-in tariff (FiT) programme introduced in 2012 stimulating growth, among other issues to have befallen the PV industry in Japan are the fact that renewable energy targets have been scrapped, while the government debates the idea of bringing some of the country’s switched off nuclear power plants back online. Announcing the first meeting of the working group, METI explained on its website that while the country’s aim was to proliferate solar power generation to an unspecified “milestone” in 2030, grid connection issues were making it difficult. METI claims the working group will adopt a neutral stance on the issue.

“…As the introduction of the FiT Scheme has rapidly expanded the dissemination of photovoltaic power generation facilities, utility companies are now facing issues of the limited capacity of power grid systems and that of adjusting the supply-demand balance across their service areas, making it difficult for them to accept additional connection requests.”

Groups including the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF) have questioned the grid connection claims  in particular the fact that approvals have been suspended on the island of Kyushu despite the fact that an estimated 9GW of capacity remains available.

Also last week, METI published guidelines for heavy industrial users of energy to be exempted next financial year from paying a portion of the surcharges for renewable energy generation normally added to electricity bills. Companies that consume a kilowatt hour of energy or more per ¥1000 (US$9.35) in sales generated will be able to apply in a move that echoes similar charges proposed as part of the EEG reforms in Germany.

Meanwhile, financial services company Orix reiterated its commitment to getting 800MW of PV online in Japan irrespective of the grid connection problem. Local and international news outlets reported the company’s head of energy and eco services businesses as saying that Orix would pursue a number of strategies in the short term, hoping to get the 800MW online by March 2018. These strategies would include installing solar in areas without grid connection problems, buying the rights to projects which have lost their FiT approvals and investing in a rental programme for residential battery systems. The company claims to have 430MW already connected or under construction in Japan. Yuichi Nishigori, the Orix head of energy and eco services, also said a number of foreign developers had asked Orix to invest in or buy their projects – Japan is a notoriously difficult market for foreign companies to enter, especially without the involvement of local partners. Orix is among the companies currently considering a 430MW project near Nagasaki, along with solar panel maker Kyocera and three other parties.

Also reported from Japan was a planned investment of 12 billion yen (US$112 million) into a 40MW project in Iwate Prefecture, in the north of the main Japanese island of Honshu by Hong Kong-based developer Sky Solar Holdings. Iwate Nippo, a local newspaper, reported that the plant is expected to being operation in 2019, selling its electricity to utility company Tohoku Electric Power.