Global Times: Agriculture-PV Hybrid Power Plants Rooted in Japan

Recently, a new type of agriculture-PV hybrid power plant widely accepted by Japanese farmers, featured with leasing farmland for rent, sharing revenue from electricity sale and retaining agricultural income for themselves, has frequently appeared on the Japanese media reports and come into the limelight. The new model of solar industry promoted by SEP Japan Co., Ltd. (SEP Japan) under the flag of SPIC, could develop ecological agriculture and enable Japanese farmers to earn revenue several times more than before while producing clean electricity, and has quietly launched an industrial model revolution around Japan, regarded as the "new intelligence of Chinese enterprises" by Japanese economic circles.


In 2014, when SEP Japan was newly founded, a few Japanese media started to cry: "The black ship has come again!" For Japanese people, the four American "black ships" which intruded into the territorial waters of Japan in 1853 remain as a permanent pain in their hearts. Meanwhile, they considered SEP Japan as an economic "black ship" coming from China. Thus, a great clamor arose around the concern over Chinese enterprises buying Japanese land and seizing Japanese energy wantonly. Nevertheless, Japanese media reversed their viewpoints over just a few years, with headlines such as "SEP Creates Regionally Symbiotic Solar Industry" and "SEP Revives Abandoned Farmland" emerging on the mainstream media including Nihon Keizai Shimbun and TV Asahi. How did SEP Japan manage to dispel doubts of Japanese people and realize win-win with Japanese society within a few years? Our reporter is conducting an interview to find the answer.


Sanda city, 25 km north of the center of Kobe, has beautiful natural scenery. Once the reporter passed the Sanda Toll Station on Hanshin Expressway, a large-scale PV power plant with vast tracts of PV panels jumped into sight. The 5 MW "SJ Sanda PV Power Plant" developed by SEP Japan started to generate electricity from end-December 2015, which is well-received by the local residents.


The power plant site once was a landfill area for the construction residue. Due to a floppy foundation, the area would form huge quantities of water every time it rained and thus made the life of surrounding residents miserable. Before constructing the power plant, SEP Japan decided to solve this urgent problem concerning people's livelihood in the first place so as to gain the trust of local residents.


SEP Japan discussed the matter with the government of Sanda city and jointly held an explanation session for the local residents, reaching a consensus with local residents on building a sand basin and drainage facility in the local area. Rainwater flows through the soil grown with plants, slows down, then flows into a U-shaped side ditch, and converges into three sand basins eventually. With earth and sand separated in the sand basins, rainwater will flow into the neighboring pool for irrigation, turning muddy water ready for agricultural use. In order to prevent geological disasters, SEP Japan implemented a large-scale foundation improvement project which strengthened the local foundation and enhanced disaster resistance ability greatly. Hence, Japanese residents appreciated the Chinese enterprise for resolving the long-term water and earth damage effectively.


In April 2017, "SJ Tsukuba PV Power Plant", located in Tsukuba city, installed 35 MW of PV panels on the farmland with total area of 54 hectares, which is the largest agriculture-PV hybrid power plant in Japan so far. SEP Japan rented the farmland from the local agricultural cooperative, and local farmers could not only obtain rent income 10 times that of ordinary farmland, but also share a certain proportion of electricity sale while producing crop on the leased farmland, with total revenue several times than before. Such industrial model serving multiple purposes has been popularized across Japan, and is likely to become a whole new industrial pattern.


Takuji Kimura, a farmer in Tsukuba, is planting Korean ginseng on the farmland of SJ Tsukuba PV Power Plant. The Korean ginseng, introduced from Yanbian of China, is growing quickly, expected to be sold at 25,000 yen (1,469 RMB) per kilo. "From the very beginning, we had a lot of contacts and negotiations with Japanese enterprises, but they found it difficult to combine power generation and agricultural operation effectively. Such a large-scale industrial integration demonstrated the power and courage of Chinese enterprise. As far as I know, SEP has invested more than 10 billion yen in this project. It is their construction that instilled new life into this area, with robust development both in power generation and agriculture. I hope the company could keep on with their business here," Kimura said.


In fact, many foreign companies investing and developing electricity industry in Japan are inclined to sell the power plant in operation to cash out. However, that is not the way of SEP Japan. "Our goal is to establish ourselves in Japan and keep our business here for 20 years, 30 years or even longer. Such sustained development cannot work without 'regional symbiosis'. Rather than pursuing high return rate, we would focus more on whether we will be accepted by local residents and whether we will continue to develop our power generation business steadily," said Diao Xu, President of SEP Japan.


A person from Japanese economic circles, who has been paying attention to SEP Japan's development in the country, believed that the development process of the company was just the attitude change of local residents from looking on, hesitation and even resistance to acceptance, welcome and cooperation. A Chinese enterprise like SEP Japan will not only let Japan rest assured and also win popularity in the countries along the Belt and Road.

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