Japan's Internet Giants "Clash" Over Solar. Everybody Wins.
The tragic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan seems to have transformed the nation's relationship to energy. Tokyo's citizens have already slashed energy use by 15%, and from plans for solar on all new buildings to the use of solar to ease energy shortages in Fukushima, the clean energy sector has gotten a boost in the arm too. Now two of Japan's most influential new business figures are pushing for solar in a big way—but they are following decidedly different paths to get there.The Wall Street Journal reports in its JAPAN REAL TIME blog that two of Japan's biggest internet business stars are both pushing for major increases in solar power, but from fairly different perspectives. While Masayoshi Son, CEO of cellphone giants SoftBank has launched a crusade for huge investments in solar power plants and centralized infrastructure, Hiroshi Mikitani, president of Japan's largest online mall Rakuten is putting his faith in a more distributed model of electricity generation—offering solar panels for sale to households across the country, and providing installment plans and low-interest loans to help ease the need for upfront investment:
"Instead of taking on enormous tasks, we intend to spread solar panels on a large-scale by bringing it to each household - not through something big but solar for each home," said Mr. Mikitani on Thursday after the company's earnings release, according to Nikkei business daily. "In terms of that being different from Mr. Son, that is the Rakuten way. In considering the efficiency of delivering (solar power) this approach is better."
Ultimately the notion that this is a real "clash" seems like publicity-friendly spin more than anything. As many commenters noted in my post on big solar versus distributed generation, we're very far from a point where this should be treated as an either/or situation. Distributed generation offers the tantalizing promise of resilient grids, community autonomy, and perhaps a transformational influence on households' energy use. It also harnesses a huge chunk of private household spending to build real energy infrastructure. Meanwhile centralized solar offers huge economies of scale, and the opportunity to better manage generating capacity.
Neither option should be discounted. And it can only be a good thing that two hugely wealthy, competent business people are helping to make both happen.