Honda is on a campaign to install Soltec solar power generation systems as fast as it can at Honda manufacturing facilities and even at its dealerships in Japan.
It is largely in response to the March, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, which destroyed power plants in Japan’s northeast and caused the near meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. In the ensuing panic over the safety of nuclear plants, 51 of Japan’s 54 reactors were shut down. That wiped out about 30 per cent of the country’s power.
Today, Japan is still getting by with 25 per cent less electrical power than it had before the disasters. The bright lights of the Ginza have noticeably darkened; factories, including car plants, are rationing power with some operating on weekends instead of during the week. All Japan’s non-nuclear power plants – mostly coal – are operating flat out. Nobody really knows what to expect when “air conditioning season” drives up electrical demand this summer.
Honda is a diversified company, buildings cars of course, but also everything from lawn mowers to jet aircraft. Included in its portfolio is Honda Soltec – a Honda subsidiary that has been making solar cells since 2006. Soltec claims its CIGS thin-film solar cells require significantly less energy during the manufacturing process and generate more electricity even during cloudy weather or morning and evening hours compared to crystalline silicon solar cells.
The capacity of solar power generation systems installed so far at Honda operations in Japan has reached 3.3 megawatts and the new program will add another megawatt at Honda automobile dealership locations by 2014. Plus another nine-kilowatt solar system is planned for Honda’s new Adachi Odai facility. The dealerships will all have displays so customers can see the amount of solar power being produced and used at that location.
Japan's nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, is running stress tests on a number of reactors to measure how well they will stand up to disasters as a step to restoring public confidence. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry wants to make it easier for abandoned farmland to be used for renewable energy projects. There is a shortage of land in Japan suitable for large-scale panels for photovoltaic power generation or wind power generation.
Japan’s economy has not bounced back from the March disasters. The latest figures show that Japan’s gross domestic product fell an annualized 2.3 per cent in the fourth quarter. Last year, the economy recorded its first annual trade deficit in 31 years. Fears of energy shortages this summer, as a result of the continuing closure of nuclear plants, has prompted urgent action on renewable energy such as Honda’s program.
Honda Canada has no plans for a similar program at its Canadian manufacturing facilities and dealer network “at this time.” It shows the difference between going green because it’s a good idea and going green because you’re forced to by disaster.