Honda (the car company, not the star soccer player) is going solar. Also, thanks to the low cost of solar today and incentives for selling solar power to the grid, the famous Japanese car company is going solar in a big way and will sell surplus electricity to the Japanese grid. (What, you thought Honda was becoming a solar power developer?)
Honda will install 70,000 solar panels (yes, 70 thousand!) at a new test course it is building in the city of Sakura in Tochigi prefecture, Japan.
Here are some more details from a Honda news release:
In 2007 Honda initially announced its plan to build a large-scale test course featuring a high-speed circuit with a 4 km long track, but postponed the plan due to the global economic recession that began in 2008. Reflecting recent changes in the business environment surrounding the automobile industry and in the market needs, Honda modified the purpose and scale of the plan and decided to build the new test course (approximately 25 ha in size) which will be utilized for the development of advanced safety technologies.
In addition, Honda will build a solar power generation system with an annual capacity of 10 MW within the same property in Sakura. After installing approximately 70,000 solar panels on an approximately 33 ha lot, Honda is planning to begin sales of the generated electricity in 2015. Moreover, as a part of its effort to conserve the natural environment, Honda is also planning to build a biotope within the property and will welcome members of the local community to enjoy it.
Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.
IKEA partnered with Gehrlicher Solar America Corp for this new project. Construction of the project will commence next spring, and should be completed by next summer. The solar panels will be installed on the roof of the 58,575 square foot store expansion. The solar system, which consists of 1,248 solar panels requires 51,516 square feet of space.
The electricity generation capacity of the project is to be 312 kW, with a projected annual generation of 383,200 kWh, bringing the combined clean energy capacity of that store branch to 1,078,200 kWh annually.
That is the equivalent of removing 761 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. That is comparable to the emissions of 158 cars, or the emissions associated with 105 homes.
The installation of rooftop-solar has become such a “no brainer” for Australian households that whole suburbs could generate and store enough electricity to go-off grid.
That is the remarkable vision painted by Australian Renewable Energy Agency CEO Ivor Frischknecht last week in a keynote speech at the All Energy conference in Melbourne. Frischknecht told the conference that one-in-eight houses across the country had solar, and one-in-five houses in South Australia and Queensland. A recent survey found that 88 per cent of Australians support the idea of rooftop solar.
“(Support for solar) is a no-brainer in most respects,” Frischknecht told the conference. “Rooftop PV makes energy costs more predictable and increasingly saves money, which is particularly pertinent for low income earners.”
But to what extent will they take it up? As Frischneckt noted, the huge uptake of solar is having an impact on incumbent utilities, who are now struggling to recoup the billions invested in network upgrades and expansions, and who are looking to pass on those costs to other users.
That in turn is leaving to a vicious circle which is pushing electricity costs up even higher, and making rooftop solar, and new technologies such as battery storage, even more attractive.
Frischknect said he knew many examples of city folk who had gone off grid – including in Sydney’s North Bondi. He recalled that ARENA chairman Greg Bourne had told an energy conference in Canberra the previous week that in the not-too-distant-future whole suburbs could embrace distributed generation and, by generating their own power, have no need to be connected to the grid at all.
That, needless to say, is a shock to the system for the incumbents, although it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even Ergon Energy, which delivers electricity to regional and remote users in Queensland, where distribution costs are higher, made the same prediction just over a week ago.
In Germany, thousands of towns and villages are looking to “buy back the grid” from the commercial operators, reasoning that the arrival of distributed energy solutions, including storage, means that they are probably better placed to look after their own needs. Cities such as Boulder in the US are looking to do the same thing.
Which would be the first suburb or township to do so in Australia? Most likely a regional centre where farmers make heavy use of energy, for irrigation for example. Robert Mierisch, the Australian co-founder of solar technology group Terrajoule bets it will be a regional town in regional NSW or Queensland that goes first.
“We’re at the stage now where a rural town in western NSW could decide to stop buying electricity from the grid, and do whatever is necessary to reduce consumption, install storage and local generation and buy the distribution network back from the operator,” he told RenewEconomy in a recent interview. (We’ll have more from that interview sometime soon).
The reaction of many of Australia’s incumbent utilities – be they network providers or generators – has been to vilify solar and seek tariff changes to protect their business models. Frischknecht himself noted that some distributors were preventing further solar connections, particularly in regional and rural locations.
But while some of the problems are technical, the major threat is economic, as Energex and studies such as those done by the APVA on Magnetic Island have suggested.
ARENA, however, is looking for means to help continue the proliferation of rooftop solar.
It commissioned a study from ACIL Allen Consulting that supported other findings that it is not the “hip and wealthy” inner-urban residents who have solar on their roofs, but people who live in the outer suburbs and in regional areas (see map above). “This is a pattern we see repeated across Australia,” says Frischknecht.
Indeed, the most likely homeowner with solar on the roof lives in a rural town, is aged over 54 and earns around $77,000 a year. But as this next graph below illustrates, there is surprisingly little difference in penetration across the income groups.
Still, many people are missing out. Solar is put almost exclusively on the rooftops of owner occupier. That’s because they gain the benefits of lower energy bills.
ARENA is now looking to help support financing models that will help deliver rooftop solar to lower income families who cannot afford the up-front payments, and to provide the right incentives for those living in rental accommodation or in apartment blocks.
The first of these is to support the “leasing” model that allows households to install rooftop solar with no money down. This accounts for ¾ of installations in California, and while some firms have introduced this into Australia, Frischknecht says the take-up has been slow.
Part of the reason has been the cost of finance: bankers are applying “first of a kind” premiums, because they haven’t seen the business model before and don’t know for sure the key metrics – such as the default and loss rates. That premium creates extra cost and makes the leasing option less attractive.
ARENA is looking at a model and a mechanism that could provide that “first of a kind” financing, to prove the model, and allow financing costs to fall.
The second financial model is focused not on leasing modules, but on leasing roof-space. This could be applied to rental properties and apartment blocks, where developers pay “rent” for the use of a rooftop and sell the output to the residents or other local customers. Frischknecht says it may be that ARENA will create a separate fund that could help finance such investment.
All of this will be of interest to the new federal Government, which as part of its “million solar roofs” program wants to focus on the lower income sector for any incentives. That program nominally has a $500 cash back subsidy, but it could be that the government will find the ARENA approach a lot more attractive.
The studies are part of a broader “integrating renewables’ project that ARENA is undertaking. This will include adding storage to solar, and looking to see where such installations would be a benefit to a network, and where they would not.
“There is much more to the PV story than just putting panels on a residential room” Frischknecht says. “It involves giving control to consumers, reducing user costs, development of a viable Australian industry bristling with technological know- how, and the creation of new jobs, skills and investment that will strengthen the Australian economy.
“And that’s just rooftop PV, from within the much larger suite of solar energy solutions.”
Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.