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Son Pledges $100 Million for Japan Solar Projects

May 25, 2011

As a long-time computer industry observer, I'm well-acquainted with Masayoshi Son.

Son is worth $8.1 billion but reportedly lost up to $70 billion in the dot-com crash of 2000. I first met him in the 1980s, when he was distributing Microsoft software and other American-made software products into his country.  Later he bought Comdex, the giant computer industry trade show, but he also owned magazines and a hefty stake in Yahoo.

(Right now the best-known solar installation in Japan is this solar ark, built by Sanyo as part of a corporate-owned museum. Picture from

Son survived the dot-bomb in part by getting into telecommunications. He now has the third-largest mobile phone provider in Japan, and was a leader in bringing broadband to the country. He thinks big, he acts big, and his every success is a slap in the face to Japan's old hierarchies, because while he was born in Japan, as was his father, the family came from Korea so he's still thought of as gaijin.

Think of Son as the Richard Branson of Japan. He knows money, he knows publicity, he revels in both. When Son scratches, in other words, Japan itches. And he's now scratching a big itch in solar power.

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster following the country's giant earthquake and tsunami, Son first promised to donate $120 million and his own salary until retirement to helping the victims. He has followed this up with plans to build 10 giant solar plants in eastern Japan, a total investment of nearly $1 billion.

Son's own investment would be about $100 million. He wants local communities to put in $100 million, and he plans to get the rest from banks.

In doing this Son is aligning himself firmly with the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, which will announce a plan to put solar panels on every building in the country capable of supplying them over the next 20 years. Japan is turning away from nuclear and turning toward renewables, Kan will tell the G8 Summit, in a move aimed at regaining some of the popularity he lost over Fukushima.

By announcing this at the Summit in France this week, Kan hopes to upstage President Obama and the other world leaders who have continued to defend nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima. If Japan can do it, he'll say, why can't you?

This is a very big deal. The world's third-largest economy is making a major commitment to renewables, specifically to solar power. Japanese demand for panels is going to firm up prices for panels across the board, meaning higher profits for all suppliers and easier access to growth capital.



The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.

Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publicat...


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