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July 25, 2011

As Japan's Businesses Quake at Cost of Clean Energy Conversion, Sharp Offers Brighter Scenario
By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor

Seventy percent of the Japanese public supports Prime Minister Naoto Kan's plans – stated in a televised news conference on July 13 – to make the nation nuclear-free in the future, according to a survey conducted by the Kyodo News agency over the weekend.

However, a similar sample of business community attitudes would, likely, not be as gung-ho. Many companies fear higher energy prices as a result of a conversion to renewable energy.

Other Japanese businesses, like Sharp Corp., would stand to benefit from the conversion to cleaner power. The company is Japan's largest supplier of solar panels, which accounted for about 9 percent of Sharp's (News - Alert) overall revenue of US$38.57 billion in the last fiscal year.

On its website, Sharp states, “As countries around the world are achieving remarkable economic progress, we will no longer be able to expand the consumption of limited fossil resources. Solar power, which makes electricity from the unlimited light of the sun, will play an extremely important role.”

Although the company acknowledges that, initially, solar energy may be pricier than nuclear power, in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Sharp President Mikio Katayama explained the inherent cost-efficiencies: “Because solar power generation involves no turbines, motors, or other driving systems, it has a very long life span. Semiconductors used in our solar cells could last for a century or longer.”

Katayama said the misconceptions about price-efficiency come from the applications for which solar energy has been used in Japan to date. “In Japan, solar panels are still primarily used on rooftops of houses – and Japanese houses typically last only about 30 years. When houses are finished, so are the solar panels on their roofs.”

“But at large solar-power plants, once you've collected the initial investment, the rest of the cost will be just for maintenance,” said Katayma “Large solar projects in the United States and Europe are all based on such long-term cost analyses. Japan has yet to develop a system for solar power generation for industrial purposes, because the country has been depending mostly on thermal and nuclear power.”

As for the safety issue, it has now been four months since an earthquake and subsequent tsunami off the Pacific coast of Tohoku ravaged the country and triggered multiple meltdowns and radiation leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – but Katayama refused to lambast the nuclear industry as a whole.

“Safety may be the most salient issue for people living relatively close to a nuclear plant, but it may not be so for those who are relatively distant. Wealthy people may not mind paying a bit more for electricity, while others may find it painful. Among businesses, manufacturers that consume a large amount of power and service industries that don't require much power may have different perspectives. The question is how to find a way to design a compromise plan and agree on it. That's what political leaders need to work on,” he concluded.

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Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell


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