- Title: JAPAN: Japan's solar city hopes to be the model of the future
- Date: 11th November 2008
- Summary: (ASIA) TOKYO, JAPAN (RECENT) (REUTERS) VIEW FROM THE SUN TO SOLAR PANELS FIXED ON HOUSE ROOFTOPS VARIOUS OF SOLAR PANELS AND SOLAR-POWERED HOUSES
- Embargoed: 26th November 2008 12:00
- Location: Japan
- Country: Japan
- Topics: Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
- Reuters ID: LVA7JUKOU9JYYHIK7YC8GIZPHWR4
- Story Text: Japan's solar-powered city offers a model for an energy self-sufficient community which produces its own electricity with rooftop solar panels.
Dark rectangular solar panels glisten across the rooftops of Ota City, located 80 kilometres northwest of Tokyo.
This city, nestled among strawberry fields in one of Japan's sunniest spots, is testimony to the allure of renewable energy in resource-poor Japan.
More than 550 homes in this city have received free solar panels from the government as part of a national project to study how to avoid blackouts by sharing solar power sources in a community.
Lured by the free solar panels, Mika Hiroshima's family moved to this neighbourhood three years ago. In their house, all the electrical appliances are primarily powered by solar energy.
And when they have some unused electricity left, they can sell it to a local power company and make money -- an extra income of as much as 5,000 yen ($50 U.S. dollars) a month.
"I had never thought I'd be receiving money instead of paying when I receive electricity bills. People had told me how good this is but I didn't believe it until I actually saw negative numbers on my electricity bills. Then I realized how wonderful this system is," said Mika Hiroshima, a 33-year-old house wife who lives in one of the solar houses with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 6.
Experts say if families had to buy them at the current market price, it would take two to three decades before they can recover the costs of the panels, which could cost at least two million yen ($20,000 U.S. dollars), even if they sell back unused power back to the grid.
Kazuo Nakashima, the city's housing development manager, says the high equipment cost still remains the biggest challenge for spreading the eco-friendly system nationwide.
"Through this project, we've cleared technical issues over solar power generation in private homes. Now, the biggest challenge is how to reduce the cost of solar panels and related equipment," Nakashima said.
The Japanese government scrapped solar panel subsidies in 2006, but it is planning to revive them next year, with the new subsidies expected to cover 10 percent of the cost of installing the panels.
Solar panel makers say that at high noon in sunny weather, a 4-kilowatt rooftop power generator would yield enough power to run four dryers at once.
In cloudy weather, the power generated is less than half at the peak.
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