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Household Solar Power Gains Momentum (October 6, 2006)

Houses fitted with solar panels (Sharp Corporation)
In a time of high oil prices and growing concern over environmental problems, the number of Japanese homes equipped with solar power systems is on the rise. In addition to improvements in solar panel design and electrical output, the benefits of household solar power include the potential for recouping the installation costs by selling excess power back to the electricity company. Solar power is thus attracting the attention of consumers with a strong interest in energy conservation.

100,000 Solar-Powered Homes
Iwaki City, situated 200 kilometers northeast of Tokyo in Fukushima Prefecture, gets more than 2,000 hours of sunlight per year and relatively little snow, despite its northern location. Residents in an area of the city called Iwaki New Town have taken advantage of this climate: A number of parks and dozens of homes there have been fitted with solar panels. A total of 313,000 kilowatt hours of electricity is produced per year in Iwaki New Town, enough to power around 90 households. The use of this much solar power saves around 72,600 liters of gasoline and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by around 195 tons per year.

More and more such systems are being installed throughout Japan. According to the Yano Research Institute, the number of solar power systems installed in newly built or remodeled homes in fiscal 2005 (April 2005 to March 2006) stood at 69,500, an increase of 18.6% from the year before. This figure is projected to grow even further in fiscal 2006, likely exceeding 100,000 homes for the first time ever. In fact, the world's largest solar panel manufacturer, Sharp Corporation, forecasts that the market for solar power will continue to grow amid soaring fuel costs. Sekisui Chemical Co., Ltd. reported that 53% of the 11,500 Sekisui Heim houses it manufactured and sold in fiscal 2005 were equipped with solar power systems.

Chuodai Minami Junior High School is also fitted with solar cells. (Iwaki City)

Energy Self-sufficiency
According to the New Energy Foundation, the cost of installing a solar power system in fiscal 2005 was ¥661,000 ($5,748 at ¥115 to the dollar) per kilowatt of electricity generated. A system priced in the ¥2 million to ¥3 million ($17,000 to $26,000) range can provide enough power for a typical family of four. As the power output of panels continues to increase each year, even as they take up less and less space, the average homeowner's capacity to produce and sell surplus electricity will rise. The resulting cost reductions will make solar power systems more economically viable for the average family and will surely contribute to an acceleration in the spread of this eco-friendly technology.

Japan led the world in total solar power output in 2005 at 1.13 million kilowatts. Meanwhile, the government has made lowering current power costs a priority and has a set a goal of equipping the country with a total solar power output of 4.82 million kilowatts by fiscal 2010.

The growing importance of solar power as a means of combating global warming and reducing reliance on expensive oil imports suggests that this technology has a bright future.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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