Japan Solar Energy Soars, But Grid Needs to Catch Up

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest and northernmost island, is known for its beautiful wild nature, delicious seafood, and fresh produce. Now another specialty is taking root: Large-scale megasolar power plants that take advantage of the island’s unique geography.

A new renewable energy incentive program has Japan on track to become the world’s leading market for solar energy, leaping past China and Germany, with Hokkaido at the forefront of the sun power rush. In a densely populated nation hungry for alternative energy, Hokkaido is an obvious choice to host projects, because of the availability of relatively large patches of inexpensive land. Unused industrial park areas, idle land inside a motor race circuit, a former horse ranch—all are being converted to solar farms. (See related, “Pictures: A New Hub for Solar Tech Blooms in Japan.”)

But there’s a problem with this boom in Japan’s north. Although one-quarter of the largest solar projects approved under Japan’s new renewables policy are located in Hokkaido, the island accounts for less than 3 percent of the nation’s electricity demand. Experts say Japan will need to act quickly to make sure the power generated in Hokkaido flows to where it is needed. And that means modernizing a grid that currently doesn’t have capacity for all the projects proposed, installing a giant battery—planned to be the world’s largest—to store power when the sun isn’t shining, and ensuring connections so power can flow across the island nation.

Written by Yvonne Chang. To read the full article, click here.

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Out with the Old: A Coal Plant Protest in My Hometown

The spewing smokestacks of Brayton Point have always been prominent landmarks in my life. On a road trip with family or friends, seeing the brown towers spring up on the horizon, in a strange way, represented home. Of course, as a child I had no idea that the coal and gas/oil-fired plant was the largest of its kind in New England and one of the largest in the U.S. at more than 1,500 megawatts (MW). But growing up in the town of Somerset, Mass., I got so used to the billowing plumes of smoke and faint hum of machinery that it was almost as if the plant wasn’t there – as if it was just another part of the landscape.

As time passed, I heard more and more stories of cancer, asthma and other respiratory issues. Residents and nearby communities would blame Brayton Point, but no one would ever be certain of their claims. Animosity toward the plant certainly grew, but it never transitioned into any substantial action.

Flash forward to this past weekend, where 400+ protestors from around the U.S. gathered in the small town and marched to Brayton Point, calling for Mass. governor Deval Patrick to come up with a plan to shutter the plant. Organized by 350.org and Better Future Action, the peaceful crowd carried mock wind turbines and solar panels to demonstrate alternatives to coal.

Written by Meg Cichon. To read the full article, click here.

Could Solar Power Ride to the Rescue in Southern California?

For decades, the twin domes of the San Onofre nuclear power plant, perched along the beach in Orange County, have been a landmark for anyone driving from L.A. to San Diego. The domes aren’t going anywhere, but on June 7, SoCal Edison voted to permanently shutter the plant, which has been closed for repairs since January 2012, when engineers discovered that hundreds of little cooling tubes were defective.

Cue the hand-wringing, as everyone in Southern California tries to figure out whether the A/C-hungry region can make it through a hot summer without rolling blackouts now that a plant that used to generate enough power for 1.4 million homes is offline. What’s going to replace the energy from San Onofre’s clean nuclear power plant?

Written by RL Miller. To read the full article, click here