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Solar Energy in Japan - Summary

Japan is the fourth largest energy consumer in the world in spite of the population of 120 million that only occupies 2.1% of world population. The largest energy sources used in Japan are oil and coal, which amounts to over 60% of total energy usage in Japan. Japan is a nation poor in resources; therefore roughly 80% of its oil is imported from OPEC: especially, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran. Also most coal comes from Australia and the United States.

Using large amount of oil and coal for energy affects the environment negatively. Fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide, which lead to global warming. In 1999, it is reported that Japan emitted carbon dioxide totalling 5% of global emissions.

In the recent decades, people started being concerned about the environment issues. Renewable energy is considered to be one of the solutions to reduce environmental pollution. Renewable energy is environmentally-friendly energy; as they do not emit harmful gasses and we can get energy in perpituity from the sun, water, underground heat and biomass. Regarding the environmental problem, Japan launched a project that promotes renewable energy use for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Today, Japan uses renewable energy for only 1.3% of the total energy usage. While current renewable energy usage remains low, Japan is planning to accelerate further renewable energy development.

Among them, solar energy is considered as one of the most promising energy alternatives. Solar energy is used as Photovoltaic (PV) for electricity and solar thermal for heating. The research for solar energy is focused on these two solar energy technologies.

Japan is the fastest growing nation that is promoting PV and now leads the world Photovoltaic market. In fact, 45% of photovoltaic cells in the world are manufactured in Japan. The benefits for using PV include high reliability, low operation cost, environmental friendly, modularity and lower construction cost. Also a consumer can sell excess electricity that is produced during the day time back to the electric company. To promote PV in households, the Japanese government offers subsidies for installation costs. Japan is also planning the "Energy from the Desert" project -- intended to establish large scale PV power generation systems in the deserts in cooperation with National University of Mongolia.

While the installation of PV system is intended for households, most solar thermal are currently installed in hospitals and public institutions. Solar thermal requires large equipment, which is relatively difficult to install in households. Solar thermal systems have multiple uses; for example, water heating, room heating and cool-water exchangers. People can save a lot of money and energy by using a solar thermal heat exchanger instead of typical air conditioner that has high electricity consumption.

As Japan improves the cost and efficiencies of these solar technologies, the nation can then export these systems around the world for the benefit of all nations, and the Japanese economy.

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