Sharp-Orix switch on 45.6MW PV plant among forest trees in northern Japan

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Tomatoh no Mori PV plant, with around a quarter of the project site to remain covered with trees. Image: Orix Corporation.

A 45.6MW DC solar farm in northern Japan has been switched on by Japanese financial services group Orix Corporation and its joint venture (JV) partner Sharp.

The Sharp Tomatoh no Mori Solar Power Station is based in Tomakomai City in Hokkaido, the most northern of the major islands constituting the Japanese archipelago. The region is less rich in solar irradiance than much of the rest of Japan and the 45.6MW DC facility will generate around 51,000MWh of electricity annually.

The northern island is however much less densely populated than other major regions of the country, meaning that many developers have chosen it for utility-scale solar projects since Japan introduced its feed-in tariffs (FiTs) to stimulate renewable energy deployment. One drawback to this is the separation of Hokkaido from Honshu, the main island containing Tokyo, Kyoto and other metropolitan areas which generally see greater demand for electricity.

The Tomatoh no Mori PV plant is however built close to Tomatoh, a region of Tomakomai City that according to its official website is one of Japan’s biggest industrial bases. The power station will be built among the trees of a forest, with the project aiming to preserve and foster the local environment, according to a report from Taiwan-based analysis firm EnergyTrend.

The Sharp-Orix JV, Tomakomai Solar Energy LLC, will operate the PV plant, with Orix having invested 70% in the project and Sharp the remaining 30%. It utilises 183,624 Sharp 245/250W PV modules and Fuji Electric inverters, according to EnergyTrend, with Sharp due to perform operations and maintenance (O&M) duties, having acted as engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) partner on the project. The plant took from December 2013 until last December to construct and was switched on at the turn of the year.

Orix has invested in solar in territories including the US as well as in its homeland, while despite a tough year, Sharp is preparing to enter Japan's electricity market as a retailer this year – the country is scheduled to launch its newly deregulated electricity market during 2016, with deregulation hoped by many to have a positive transformative effect on both consumer choice and on the rate of deployment of PV. 

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