Friday Dec 02, 2022

How Will Tokyo’s Solar Panel Mandate Handle Allegations of Forced Labor in China? – The Diplomat


On September 9, the Tokyo metropolitan government unveiled a new policy requiring home builders and developers to install solar panels on new buildings and houses starting from the spring of 2025. Not all new houses and buildings will face the requirement, which applies to houses and buildings with total floor space of less than 2,000 square meters. Houses with roof space of less than 20 square meters will be exempt. About 50 major Japanese companies are expected to be impacted by the new requirements.

This is the first time a Japanese city had adopted a mandate for solar panel installation. In announcing the new policy, Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko said, “To realize decarbonization, it is essential to spread awareness among the people of Tokyo.” She added, “I hope this will be a turning point in history that will make people say, ‘Tokyo has changed.’”

The obligation to install solar panels on new buildings in Tokyo is a critical policy decision for Japan’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, given the fact that an estimated 70 percent of carbon dioxide emissions come from air conditioning, hot water supplies, and electrical lighting within buildings. To date, solar power equipment has not been widely installed on buildings in the city.

Mandatory installation of solar panels to buildings in Tokyo would also be helpful for ensuring a more stable energy supply. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has accelerated his energy policy since the Russia-Ukraine War. Japan plans to reduce reliance on Russian energy, and in that context the Tokyo solar panel mandate could help enhance Japan’s energy security.

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The installation of solar panels helps residents save money on energy costs in the long run. Nonetheless, it is not customers but developers that are obliged to install solar panels on new buildings in Tokyo. In order to minimize the installation cost, developers may want to purchase inexpensive and imported solar panels, and they may look to China

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Solar panels made in China were once thought to be low quality compared to the ones made in Japan, but now Chinese solar panel manufactures produce high-quality products and export them to Japan and all over the world. And even if Chinese companies are not making the finished product, they export necessary building blocks around the world. According to the revised version of “Special Report on Solar PV Global Supply Chain” published in August 2022 by the International Energy Agency (IEA), China produces almost 95 percent of polysilicon, ingot, and wafer components used in solar panels. “The world will almost completely rely on China for the supply of key building blocks for solar panel production through 2025,” the report found.

Given that context, Koike needs to clearly explain a plan for ensuring that solar panels for new buildings in Tokyo are not tainted by human rights violations, especially forced labor in China. Last year, researchers of Sheffield Hallam University reported that some 45 percent of the world’s supply of polysilicon, a key component of solar panels, was made in the Xinjiang region of China, the produce of forced labor by Uyghur Muslims.

On September 9, the Tokyo metropolitan government explained in a Q&A regarding the …….


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