Since its establishment in 1981 as a provider of residential building and maintenance services, and then residential solar generation, the West Group stands today as one of the world’s longest-running solar power companies.
The West Group provides fully integrated services, incorporating research, design, construction and operation & maintenance (O&M) of solar power installations, as well as the buying and selling of solar-generated electricity.
According to West Group’s Chairman Takashi Kikkawa, the company’s great strength is the quality of its “human assets,” which he believes is key to supporting the company’s products, services and development. He adds, “Even as the business and environment has changed, we have paid particular attention to human assets right since the company’s beginning.
“From purchase and design to construction, we are responsible for 20 years of sustainable power supply and the expertise of our staff is crucial to that. We are continually cultivating our staff so that they can respond rapidly to customer needs and be knowledgeable regarding how to handle local regulations and deal with local power companies.”
The company’s current focus is its Stadtwerke Concept that aims to form powerful partnerships with local governments across Japan to drive regional investment based on energy businesses. The idea is to position solar power generation and other renewable energies as an industry that will energise rural areas, revitalise other industries, create employment and generate economic circulation in the process, and expand efforts to a wide array of businesses.
Stadtwerke itself refers to a small-scale communal business entity responsible for regional energy and lifestyle infrastructure. These Stadtwerke exist throughout Germany. There are currently around 900 such companies in Germany, and together they maintain a share of approximately 20 per cent of the German electric power retail market.
A Stadtwerke embraces “for the region or community” as its management philosophy. Rather than placing a priority on proﬁt as a private company does, a Stadtwerke places the greatest emphasis on regional needs. The philosophy is that a business and operating structure that generates proﬁt by responding to those needs ultimately leads to a happy relationship for all three parties in the region, namely the local residents, local government and the business entity.
West Group’s version of the Stadtwerke project is committed to regional revitalisation through the proposal of renewable energy-based infrastructure services and the provision of comprehensive lifestyle services.
To tackle regional creation, West Group took cues from the communal business entities that deliver public services in Germany. Its purpose is to solve the issues facing each region and provide support to ensure that areas become places where local residents will want to continue living well into the future.
In March 2015, Stadtwerke Japan was established as a regional energy supplier as well as providing comprehensive community-based lifestyle services and offering consultation to local governments.
In addition to providing consulting and operational support for renewable energies and other infrastructure services to local governments in rural areas, the company also provides these local governments with Stadtwerke businesses dedicated to the provision of comprehensive community-based lifestyle services.
“We will increase overall energy efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of energy for all levels of society, while also fulfilling a wide range of demand from supermarkets, offices, factories and housing,” Kikkawa explains.
Stadtwerke Japan has concluded an advisory agreement with the international third party certification organization TÜV SÜD. While making use of TÜV SÜD’s expertise in Stadtwerke businesses, Stadtwerke Japan responds to a diverse range of needs giving individual consideration to infrastructure services provided by local governments in rural areas.
Through an arrangement with the Akitakata-shi Hiroshima Prefecture in 2013, West Group took their first steps towards the development of this principle. The centerpiece of the effort was the site of a former New Zealand village theme park. An 8MW mega solar system was constructed on this land, with a solar power generating plant constructed on the roofs of city facilities. There are also plans to later introduce storage batteries as an emergency power supply.
The region now produces around 6,000 kilowatts from the rooftops of the former New Zealand village theme park and supplies around 130 municipal facilities, such as the city hall and schools.
As disparities seem to enlarge every year between cities and regional areas and many local governments are troubled about how to revitalise their communities, West Group hopes their concept will help to reduce the gap.
Akitakata City, located in a mountainous area of Hiroshima Prefecture, aims to become a “smart grid town.” With West Group’s help, the city started an innovative approach to obtain stable long-term revenues by leasing municipal facilities and idle land to private companies to be used as sites for solar power generation systems from which it could derive lease fee income as well as property and corporate taxes.
The key point of this project is that the city does not bear any installation or operating costs. The way this works is that the city leases municipal land to an affiliate of West Group, which constructs and operates the solar power generation systems, and the city receives the lease fees as income.
When the preferential treatment for taxes allocated to local governments due to municipal mergers, known as “the great Heisei mergers” comes to an end, tax revenues will decrease for Akitakata City. The introduction of these solar power generation systems at this time comes as a breakthrough for maintaining fiscal stability, and will be a great benefit to the city. More specifically, revenues of about 537 million yen over 20 years are expected from the combination of lease fees, local taxes, and property taxes.
Being a rural community located in the mountains without any other industry than farming and related industry, West Group made use of the fact that Akitakata City benefited from having ample land for development. By implementing a power generation base for renewable energy sources it hopes to attract companies and see the growth of jobs. In addition, besides the economic benefits, it also hopes to preserve the abundant nature of the locality. Without destroying the natural environment it aims to make the most of nature to create energy that has less impact on the environment and realise a smart city that produces agricultural products using this energy and is in harmony with nature.
West Group is grateful to Akitakata City for quickly making the decision to participate in this project however is assured that as a leader in solar power generation, with a track record that consists of a large number of industrial and residential solar power construction projects as well as mega solar installations at 80 locations, they were the best candidates to follow through with the project.
Using Akitakata City as a model the company believes it can expand this system to other local governments with the same scheme.
Stadtwerke Japan’s future
As is apparent, West Group is firmly committed in its dedication to social responsibility. Following the nuclear power plant accidents that occurred in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake the company feels this has only further highlighted the challenges faced with respect to safety issues. Relying too much on fossil fuels such as coal and oil also raises concerns that such use will exacerbate global environmental issues, and so by working on renewable energy sources, West Group aims to tackle what is a pressing issue for Japan and further to that, the world. West Group believes it is possible to create clean energy by making effective use of the abundant natural resources and vast land and forests that Akitakata City possesses and by doing so, and by successfully implementing its Stadtwerke concept, hopes to showcase a model that can create an abundant environment for the world and children of the future by promoting the use of green energy.