The mitigation of global warming is a common challenge for the entire world, and essential in order to make sustainable societies a reality. Over 120 countries and regions, Japan included, are currently working toward the target of being carbon neutral*1 by 2050. Achieving carbon neutrality will require popularization of renewable energy sources such as solar power.
In Japan, the nuclear power plant accident following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake rekindled awareness of the value of sustainable energy. The government introduced a feed-in tariff (FIT*2) system the year after the accident, and solar power generation facilities have expanded rapidly since then. A decade on, however, it has become apparent that around 30% of operators are facing problems such as equipment failures which prevent them from maintaining full generating capacity. Perceiving this problem, OMRON Social Solutions Co., Ltd. collaborated with a variety of stakeholders to create an industry-first service for fixed-rate rental of power conditioners.*3 Named POWER CONTINUE, this service is helping to tackle the challenges of reliable operation of solar power generators.
*1 Carbon neutral: A state of equilibrium between the volumes of emission and absorption of greenhouse gases. This state is achieved when the volume of carbon dioxide and other human-made greenhouse gases produced by industrial activity reaches zero after subtracting the volume of greenhouse gases absorbed as a result of tree-planting and other forestry management activities.
*2 FIT: A system that obligates power companies to purchase electricity generated using solar and other sustainable energy sources at a rate determined by the government.
*3 Power conditioner: A device that converts direct current electricity generated by a solar battery module (solar panel) into alternating current electricity for use in homes, commercial facilities and the like, enabling the overall power generation system to operate effectively and efficiently.
Surveys conducted a decade after the rapid uptake of solar power in Japan began in 2012 have found that around 30% of solar power generation facilities are experiencing diminished power output owing to problems such as faulty and aging equipment, wildlife damage and weeds. The decline in output resulting from such problems was roughly equal to the capacity of five nuclear power generators. One underlying cause of this issue was a structural problem facing solar power producers in Japan: a variety of players are involved in the construction and operation of solar power generation facilities--including equipment manufacturers, construction companies, operation and management contractors, and financiers--but there was no integrated management system linking all these players together.
Having observed the industry's predicament for themselves, Yoshida and Hirai from the Energy Solutions Business H.Q. in OSS set out to formulate a solution. Hirai recalls his conversations with users as follows: "Many of them said that they didn't know where to go for help when problems arose. Some of them had already withdrawn from the industry, and others were facing serious obstacles to maintaining their generators. Reliable long-term operation of power generation facilities is essential in order to popularize renewable energy and achieve a sustainable society. We decided that we had a responsibility to seek a solution to this problem, given that OMRON has worked on developing and supplying generation facilities since the advent of solar power, and now boasts a major share of the market."
Based on feedback from users, OSS arrived at the idea of providing a service for fixed-rate rental of power conditioners. Upending the conventional approach of selling equipment outright, this service involves exchanging poorly performing equipment for the latest models rented out at fixed rates, to support reliable operation of solar power facilities in the long term. However, the absence of precedents for such a service meant that the team had little to go on when they started out.
As the team approached businesses across a variety of sectors and engaged them in ongoing discussion, questions such as how to set rental fees that take account of all the costs involved, and how much warranty cover to provide on the equipment, gradually came to light. This consultative process produced a rapid increase in the number of businesses expressing empathy with OMRON's ideas and requesting to become partners. This achievement is attributable not only to the trust placed in OSS as a longtime developer and supplier of power conditioners, but also to the fact that the company's solid commitment to popularizing renewable energy in order to create a sustainable society resonated widely.
In May 2021, around one year after the development process began, POWER CONTINUE was launched on the market as the industry's first fixed-rate power conditioner rental service. POWER CONTINUE combines fixed-rate equipment rentals with on-site maintenance and management services. OSS has thus built a new system that connects a variety of players in the industry to deliver efficient and long-term support for the reliable operation of solar power generators, which will help to boost the penetration of renewable energy.
Since its launch, not only has POWER CONTINUE been hailed by power producers as a solution to their declining output problems, but it has also drawn positive responses from other stakeholders right across the industry, leading to steady growth in uptake. OSS is gearing up to deliver the service to several tens of times as many producers in fiscal 2022 as it did in the previous year. Producers using POWER CONTINUE and its supporting partners are now calling for an expanded range of services including the provision of a larger lineup of products, and highlighting newly emerging needs beyond the current framework of fixed-rate rentals and maintenance, such as management of equipment owned by producers themselves. There are expectations that POWER CONTINUE will continue evolving to support the further penetration of solar power.
Looking back on this initiative, Yoshida comments: "Projects in OSS always begin by identifying problems in society. Most of these problems can't be solved by any single company working alone. We're committed to opening the door to a sustainable future by working collaboratively with everybody we engage with."