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Solar energy sharing in Japan and Farming  RSS feed

 
Melvin Hendrix
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In the aftermath of Fukashima, Japan is accelerating its focus on renewable energies, particularly solar. This week I received an alert in my email inbox highlighting the implementation of solar sharing systems on productive farms in Japan, work that has been going on since probably before 2000. According to the report, "the practice of food and energy double-generation, known as 'solar sharing' in Japan, was originally developed by Akira Nagashima in 2004." Like the United States and other developing countries, the average age of farmers in Japan is more than 60. Moreover, an increasing number have quit farming because their farms were not profitable or they had to take on 2nd jobs to make up for reduced revenues from farming.

However, recently, government support for solar sharing has forced energy providers in Japan to buy energy from local farmers enrolled in a special program, giving them a "living wage" so that they can continue to farm or to help young people stay on the farms. When I say farmers, I'm not speaking of mega farmers as would occur in the US, but small farms with as little as 2.5 hectares (about 7 acres). In Japan, municipal agricultural committees make decisions like these rather than the state and federal govt, which may account for the emphasis. Also, to remain in the program, there is a baseline that farmers must meet: "To ensure continuous farming, municipal agricultural committees require farmers to report annual amounts of cultivation and demand to take down the PV system from the land if the amount of crops cultivated on the solar shared farmland gets reduced by more than 20%, compared to the pre-PV installation." This is to insure that some participant does not decide to become just an energy provider, rather than a food producer.

The cost of installation is borne by the farmer from the FIT proceeds received from energy providers over a period of 20 years. While the cost of a small solar system is not cheap ($126,000), it is more than offset by the FIT or feed-in-tariff rate which for the farmers described ranged from $16K-25K per year. Of course, if the farmers continue to practice business as usual, their farms will still not be self-sustaining. You can read more at the link below and others from searching "solar sharing". There are also a few videos on youtube about Japan and solar energy policies. What permies might find interesting is that the technology is light and designed to be mobile or at least taken down and re-employed elsewhere easily.

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/10/japan-next-generation-farmers-cultivate-agriculture-and-solar-energy

 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Location: Foothills north of L.A., zone 9ish mediterranean
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A bit of tangentially relevant history: The reason for Japan's small farm size is US policy in the postwar era. Prewar, there were a large number of basically landless Japanese peasants in semi-fuedal rural Japan. US wanted to prevent the peasants from turning communist, so they enacted land reform, breaking up large landholdings among the poor. These newly enfranchised farmers became staunch supporters of property rights, capitalism and the pro-American LDP that has dominated Japanese politics for more than half a century. With rural depopulation and aging demographic among farmers, it will be interesting to see what happens to this voting bloc over the next 2 decades.

Japan Agriculture (J.A.) is a huge national agricultural co-op, that wields quite a bit of political clout and is organized in every farming community in Japan. Assuming J.A. favors solar farming, it bodes very well for solar farming. They can throw some weight around with the government in Tokyo and organize very effectively in rural communities. It is also worth mentioning that Panasonic, Sharp & Kyocera are all major PV manufacturers and powerful economic forces as well. It must be understood that Japanese rural communities already draw a significant portion of their income from national government spending or protective tariffs for rice and other products. Solar feed-in-tariffs will only exaggerate this pattern - but they may prevent the Japanese countryside from being entirely abandoned and overrun by monkeys, wild boar and bamboo.

Regardless, ANYTHING which prevents Japan's nuke reactors from coming back online is good news. They start unloading spent fuel pool #4 in November. Duck and cover.
 
Melvin Hendrix
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Thanks for the historical overview, yukkuri. Shows how unintended consequences can change the political-economic landscape of a region. Given the self-interests involved and Japan's need for broad-based solutions other than nuclear, there can be little doubt that solar sharing on agriculture lands have a future. What is interesting, too, as you suggest, is that the solar sharing projects are thus far all located in eastern prefectures and how they may be impacted by the fallout (excuse the pun) from the Fukashima Nuclear disaster area from both land and sea. No sane person wants those spent fuel rods to create the type of disaster that they portend. Many Japanese consumers already are not buying food products from the region; when neighbors stop buying locally produced foods because of the threat of radiation it's likely the only income farmers will earn will be from their solar cells, which is still much more revenue than derived from farming. I suspect, too, that if consumer fear or more explosions occur at Fukashima, it is likely that the 80%-20% policy will be revisited.

As an aside, I've always been impressed by the capabilities of local communities in Japan to organize and fight the big fight against government, including wearing the same protective gear as the authorities. Even when people are jailed or their protests meet formidable force, they still quickly impact policy as no political party is interested in seeing more communities follow the same path of resistance to current policy.
 
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