While most people in the world are considering more energy efficient means of living, Japan is one step ahead. One solar-powered city offers an energy self-sufficient community that produces its own power. Let’s take a look. STORY: These dark rectangular solar panels could hold the key to a completely self-sufficient community. Ota City, located about 80 kilometers north of Tokyo, is one of Japan’s sunniest spots and home to strawberry fields. Quite interestingly enough this nature hotspot is where 550 homes are given free solar panels from the government, as part of a study on how avoid blackouts by sharing solar power. Mika Hiroshima’s family moved to the neighborhood three years ago to try out solar power. All of her electrical appliances are mostly powered by solar energy and when they have some unused electricity left, they can sell it to a local power company and make a profit of up to 5,000 yen, or about 50 U.S. dollars, a month. [Mika Hiroshima, House Wife]: “I had never thought I’d be receiving money instead of paying when I receive electricity bills. People had told me how good this is but I didn’t believe it until I actually saw negative numbers on my electricity bills. Then I realized how wonderful this system is.” Solar panel makers say that at high noon in sunny weather, a 4-kilowatt rooftop power generator can yield enough power to run four dryers at once. In cloudy weather, the power generated is less than half of that. Experts say if families buy them at the current market price, it would take two to three decades before they could recover costs of about two million yen, or 20,000 U.S. dollars. Ota housing development manager Kazuo Nakashima says the high equipment cost still is the biggest challenge in spreading the eco-friendly system. [Kazuo Nakashima, Housing Development Manager]: “Through this project, we’ve cleared technical issues over solar power generation in private homes. Now, the biggest challenge is how to reduce the cost of solar panels and related equipment.” The Japanese government scrapped solar panel subsidies in 2006, but it is planning to revive them next year, with the new subsidies expected to cover 10 percent of installation costs.

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