Solar Panels. Image: Flickr user Duke Energy.

Illinois Firm Invests in Japanese Solar Plants


Japan-based SB Energy recently partnered with Chicago-based Invenergy to develop, finance, and construct two solar plants in the Nagano and Fukushima prefectures. The photovoltaic plants will generate 20.9 megawatts of solar power and start operations in 2018. The collaboration marks Invenergy’s first major commercial transaction in Japan.

Invenergy, North America’s largest independent and private renewable energy provider, has developed approximately 250 megawatts of solar and wind energy in Japan since 2013. The firm benefited from the Japan Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry’s feed in tariff (FIT) program, which was established in 2012 to increase the country’s energy self-sufficiency and diversification by encouraging investment, development, and generation of renewable energy. The program, in conjunction with the country’s 2014 Basic Energy Plan that set renewable energy goals for Japan, presents many opportunities for further US renewable energy investment in Japan.

Softbank Corporation, SB Energy’s parent company, is the fourth largest Japanese company in Illinois, with over 2,300 employees. Approximately 350 Japanese firms invest in the state and employ almost 50,000 Illinoisans. Japan is the state’s second largest FDI partner by employment, and Illinois ranks fourth among US states for trade with Japan.

Illinois is one of nine states that make up the Midwest US-Japan Association, which holds an annual conference dedicated to strengthening economic ties between the Midwest and Japan. During the 2016 conference, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner emphasized the importance of Japan to the state and hoped to expand trade, tourism, and cultural exchanges with the country.

The Invenergy-SB Energy partnership is part of an extensive US-Japan collaboration on energy research and development. The University of Illinois and Japan’s Kyushu University are jointly investigating the production of chemical fuels from electricity, and the institutions sponsor an exchange program that allows researchers to further study the issue in Fukuoka. The United States and Japan partner in developing new energy technologies under the US-Japan Science and Technology Agreement and enhancing discussions on strategies through the US-Japan Energy Strategic Dialogue. The two countries also maintain agreements to strengthen civil nuclear energy cooperation, decrease carbon emission, and open US liquefied natural gas exports to Japan.

Genna Liu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a government and economics student at Dartmouth College.