Like shale oil, solar power is shaking up global energy

One by one, Japan is turning off the lights at the giant oil-fired power plants that propelled it to the ranks of the world’s top industrialised nations. With nuclear power in the doldrums after the Fukushima disaster, it’s solar energy that is becoming the alternative.

Solar power is set to become profitable in Japan as early as this quarter, according to the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF), freeing it from the need for government subsidies and making it the last of the G7 economies where the technology has become economically viable.

Japan is now one of the world’s four largest markets for solar panels and a large number of power plants are coming onstream, including two giant arrays over water in Kato City and a $1.1 billion solar farm being built on a salt field in Okayama, both west of Osaka.

“Solar has come of age in Japan and from now on will be replacing imported imported uranium and fossil fuels,” said Tomas Kåberger, executive board chairman of JREF.

“In trying to protect their fossil fuel and nuclear (plants), Japan’s electric power companies can only delay developments here,” he said, referring to the 10 regional monopolies that have dominated electricity production since the 1950s.

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