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KEPCO, Sharp to build solar plant

Jul 3, 2008 - Associated Press

Eco-friendly facility to be first of its kind to power nation's homes, factories

OSAKA--Kansai Electric Power Co., the nation's second-biggest electricity producer, and Sharp Corp., the consumer electronics giant, recently announced plans to set up a solar power plant in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, that will be one of the world's largest.

The two firms aim to demonstrate their awareness of environmental issues by building the plant, which will be the first in the nation to deliver solar-generated electricity to households and factories.

The plant will comprise two separate facilities. One is to be operated solely by KEPCO and will supply electricity to the public power grid, while the other will be jointly managed and generate electricity for use at factories owned by the two firms.

The generating capacity of the plant is expected to be about 28 megawatts, which, despite representing only 0.02 percent of the total output of all KEPCO plants, is enough electricity for about 8,000 households, and would make the plant one of the most productive solar facilities in the world.

Construction of the first facility is to begin in fiscal 2009, on a site of about 20 hectares leased from the Osaka prefectural government.

The firms announced the plan in the lead-up to the Group of Eight nations summit in Toyakocho, Hokkaido, which begins Monday and has environmental issues as a major topic on its agenda.

Establishing the plant will potentially benefit both firms' business operations, but the firms say their true aim in making the 5 billion yen investment is to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Japan.

As a signatory to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, Japan is required to cut emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases by 6 percent from 1990 levels before 2012, and the new projects by Sharp and KEPCO aim to help meet the targets.

KEPCO hopes to reduce its own average annual CO2 emissions by about 16 percent over the same period.

Despite making use of CO2 emission trading--which allows the purchase of CO2 emission credits from firms in developing nations that do not use their full quota--the firm has so far been unable to reach its target, leading to its exploration of alternative energy.

Firms trying to turn solar power generation into a profitable business face considerable hurdles.

The technical problem of how to guarantee a stable supply of solar power, which could make it the primary means of generating electricity, is yet to be solved, KEPCO Executive Vice President Sakae Kanno said.

The amount of electricity generated by solar power depends greatly on weather conditions. Whether KEPCO can solve these problems is likely to be a harbinger for the future of solar power in Japa

Meanwhile, Sharp will supply solar power to a number of buildings in an industrial park in Sakai, including its own liquid crystal television factory, by installing a system on the factory's roof that employs a new type of solar battery known as thin-film photovoltaics (PV).

The thin-film PV system requires only 1 percent of the silicon needed for other solar cell systems, and due to the scarcity and rising cost of silicon, the system is expected to be widely adopted internationally.

Sharp has been striving to increase its overseas production of the thin-film PV, due to limited domestic demand for solar power (partly due to the central government's decision to discontinue subsidies for solar-powered households at the end of fiscal 2005), as well as wide interest in other countries.

In some nations in Europe and elsewhere, solar-generated electricity costs less than that created by less environmentally friendly means, prompting rapid growth of the solar power market.

In mid-May, Sharp reached a basic agreement to launch a solar power project with Enel SpA, the largest power company in Italy. The project is expected to see Sharp set up several solar power plants using thin-film PV in Italy by the end of 2011, with a combined generating capacity of about 160 megawatts, or enough to power about 40,000 households in Japan.

Sharp also will examine the possibility of jointly establishing with Enel SpA a plant to manufacture solar battery panels for thin-film PV. It intends to increase its annual production capacity for the panels from 15 megawatts as of November 2007 to 6,000 megawatts in the future.

Sharp has nurtured the production of thin-film PV as one of its primary business projects. "We will collect data as well as operational know-how on the generating efficiency of thin-film photovoltaics," said Toshishige Hamano, vice president of Sharp Corp.

As a participant in the bidding for KEPCO's solar power generation facility with thin-film PV, Sharp hopes to obtain data for the facility so that it can better provide the products to its customers.


Updated: 2003/07/28