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The development trend of Japan’s agricultural photovoltaic field may become the next opportunity

From April 2020, Japan’s new regulations on feed-in tariffs (FITs) came into effect. The new regulations are mainly aimed at self-consumption requirements for photovoltaic systems from 10 kW to 50 kW, as well as a new tax scheme.

Japan hopes to promote photovoltaic installations by dividing renewable energy into two types of energy: competitive energy and local consumption energy. Large-scale photovoltaic power plants are positioned as a competitive source of electricity and are integrated into the feed-in-premium (FIP) scheme of the electricity market. Meanwhile, systems under 50 kW – mainly small commercial PV systems and residential arrays connected to low-voltage networks – are classified as locally consuming energy for self-consumption and community consumption.

Photovoltaic systems with a power between 10 kW and 50 kW must comply with two provisions of the new scheme. First, the system must achieve a self-consumption ratio of at least 30%. The project owner needs to submit a self-use plan when applying for the approval of the on-grid tariff, because the output power needs to be monitored during the operation. The second requirement is related to the emergency of grid power outage, and the project owner needs to provide at least one external power outlet for power supply.

As far as agricultural photovoltaic systems are concerned, they are all in the range of 10 kW to 50 kW, with no self-consumption requirements, because the farm’s demand for electricity is negligible. Nonetheless, agricultural PV systems must meet blackout operation requirements and other rules set by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

In Japan, where land available for PV installation is limited, “solar power sharing” is considered a promising PV application. According to MAFF, “solar power sharing” means that photovoltaic arrays can operate on farmland while agricultural activities continue, without affecting agricultural activities. MAFF published a regulation on so-called solar power sharing in 2013, clarifying the requirements for installing photovoltaics on agricultural land. These rules allow for temporary dual use of farmland if the system meets multiple conditions; that is, the PV system can be temporarily removed to prioritize the best sunlight for crops. At the same time, the regulations also stipulate that farmers need to report the harvest status once a year, and the crop yield should be maintained at more than 80% of the yield before installing the photovoltaic system.

According to Takeshi Magami of Chiba Eco-Energy Corporation, a leader in Japan’s agricultural PV sector, Japan could install about 30 GW of agricultural PV capacity if only 1% of Japan’s farmland was used for PV power generation.

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