Effective May 1, 2019, the era name in Japan has changed from Heisei to Reiwa. Having experienced significant changes during the 30 years of the Heisei era, PV power generation has grown up from a new sprout to a large bud. In the new Reiwa era, we expect the bud will bloom and become a large flower.
In the Showa era, the solar cell was invented. While the solar cell was used as a special power source, its development and demonstration as energy technology were implemented under the national project, the Sunshine Project. With the start of the Heisei era in January 1989, PV shifted from the technology development to the early dissemination stage. Along with the exploration of its use as energy, PV made a dramatic progress to gain a position in 2018 as a future mainstream power source. Although the focus of the energy policies shifted to nuclear energy in the first half of the 30 years of the Heisei era as shown in Table 1, the importance of new and renewable energy was recognized and the surplus PV electricity purchase program started in 1992. As the Basic Guidelines for New Energy Introduction was approved by the Cabinet in 1994, the subsidy program for residential PV systems was introduced. Thereafter, the Act on the Promotion of New Energy Introduction (1997), the Basic Act on Energy Policy (2002) and the Act on Special Measures Concerning the Use of New Energy by Electric Utilities (RPS Law, 2002) were enacted sequentially and the dissemination of PV accelerated. During this period, Japan had been the global leader in the annual installed capacity until 2003 and in the annual PV production amount until 2006 and became a model country in PV dissemination. However, with the expiry of the subsidy program for residential PV systems in 2005, Japan’s installed capacity stagnated.
The expansion momentum of PV installation recovered when the Action Plan for Achieving a Low-carbon Society was approved by the Cabinet in 2008, which set the PV installation targets at 14 GW by 2020 and 53 GW by 2030. While the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) made an urgent proposal, the New Direction of the New Energy Policy, and in 2009, the Act on the Promotion of Use of Non-fossil Energy Sources and Effective Use of Fossil Energy Materials by Energy Suppliers was enacted and the surplus PV electricity purchase program at the price twice as high as the normal price started. This movement was the trigger for the subsequent discussions for the legislation of the gross electricity purchase program for renewable energy and the Renewable Energy Act (FIT Act) was enacted in 2011. After the FIT program started in July 2012, the speed of PV dissemination became faster. Although the explosive growth of PV introduction under the FIT Act caused numbers of social issues such as increased burden of citizens, the Fifth Strategic Energy Plan, which is the base of future energy policies and effective today, stipulates the policy of making renewable energy a mainstream power source.
In April 2019, METI restarted the meeting of the Subcommittee for Large-volume Introduction of Renewable Energy and Next Generation Electricity Network towards the radical review of the FIT program which is planned to be conducted by the end of FY 2020 and started the third-phase discussion to make renewable energy a mainstream power source. This time, the issues including the followings will be discussed concerning the reconstruction of renewable energy policies: 1) Appropriate scheme responding to the characteristics of power sources; 2) Proper business discipline, and 3) Transition to the next generation electricity network. At the full-scale discussion, which may be the first action in the Reiwa era, the strict and steady solutions with future perspectives are desired towards the goal of making renewable energy a mainstream power source. Also, it is necessary for the PV industry to get together and pave the ways appropriate for the new era of Reiwa. Following the Showa era and the Heisei era, which are positioned as the periods of technology development and dissemination, respectively, let’s make the Reiwa era, an era of significant development of PV power generation which will shine brilliantly.