Information Bulletin No.27

Generating Solar Energy at Home

August 17, 1995

Solar energy systems that provide an inexhaustible, clean supply of electricity are now starting to be installed in private homes. This is being spurred by a program launched in fiscal 1994 (April 1994 to March 1995) by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, under which the ministry pays half of the system's installation fee for households that agree to serve as monitors.

The program has prompted appliance and housing makers to develop more efficient models, and it is hoped that solar systems will become less expensive and more accessible in the future.

The Japanese government has been carrying out research to develop solar energy systems since after the oil crisis of 1973-74 as part of its drive to develop alternative energy sources. Unlike thermal power generation, solar energy does not deplete finite energy resources nor release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, making it an ideal energy source for preserving the global environment. Now that manufacturers have the technology to produce high-efficiency models that can be used in the home, the government decided to launch the monitor program to encourage mass production and bring down costs.

The program began in fiscal 1994 with a budget of 2.0 billion yen; 577 homes were selected at random to serve as monitors from a pool of approximately a thousand applicants. The budget was increased to 3.3 billion yen in fiscal 1995, and the number of participating households rose to 1,200.

A standard solar energy system with a power-generating capacity of 3 kilowatts costs between 5 million and 6 million yen. Selected homes receive a subsidy equalling approximately half of the cost of the system. In return the household will submit reports on how the system is operating and the amount of electricity generated over a three year period.

Households with solar systems will still need to rely on power companies for their supply of electricity at night and on rainy or cloudy days, but they will be able to sell any surplus electricity they generate on sunny days to the power company. For an average household of four people, the 3- kilowatt system should produce enough energy to reduce the electricity bill virtually to zero.

A household in the city of Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, that installed a 3-kilowatt system happily reported that they were able to sell electricity back to the power company in May, when their consumption was low. A family in Kawasaki that bought a home with a built-in solar system cited that their primary concern was environmental protection, rather than the savings on energy bills.

According to a plan adopted by the government at the end of 1994, efforts will be made to secure 400,000 kilowatts of electricity through solar power--a hundred times current levels--by the year 2000.

(The above article, edited by Japan Echo Inc., is based on domestic Japanese news sources. It is offered for reference purposes and does not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.)