July 16, 2012 at 5:43 PM ET
A small village in Japan has become the first in the country to provide for its power needs entirely through renewable energy, after a number of factors convinced villagers to build a large solar installation. According to The Japan Times, Sanno, a rural community of less than a dozen households, decided to go renewable shortly after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and now, just over a year later, has done so.
The national disillusionment with nuclear, combined with some pressing financial issues, made residents of Sanno opt to take the risk of building a solar array that would power their whole community. They had the space, the inclination and — thanks to the local government's purchase of land from residents — a little money. They got a quote, got another quote, and started building in January with estimated costs of around ¥17 million, roughly $215,000.
The array went live at the end of March, and is now fully operational. It generates 40,000 kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power the needs of 11 households and 42 people, but not much more. And at the moment, it does not directly power the town; the conversion and storage of the electricity is handled by the local power company, which buys the electricity for ¥1.8 million per year (about $23,000). It's not much, but it's covering the local energy expenses, and will never fail as catastrophically as Fukushima.
It's a modest achievement, but it was also accomplished on a very short timeline with a relatively small sum of money. A Japanese weekly magazine lauded the residents of Sanno (since 2004 incorporated into the nearby city of Tamba) and the fact that a handful of retired farmers could organize to put together a modern and potentially profitable solar array.
Solar power is still, per watt, far more expensive that fossil-based and nuclear power. But there is growing distrust of the industries and technology following such natural and manmade disasters as Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima, and solar, while expensive, can be installed quickly, safely and at smaller scale. It may only be keeping the lights on for a dozen houses in Sanno, but it has captured the attention of the entire region.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for NBCNews.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.