Japanese Internet giant to push home solar

Imagine if Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced he’d use his site to promote putting solar panels on home roofs and also help consumers find the money to pay for it (well, Bezos has personally backed nuclear power). That’s what Hiroshi Mikitani, president of the Japanese’s massive online retailer, Rakuten, said after the company issued its quarterly earnings Thursday. The Internet giant plans to not only start selling solar panels online but also offering financial options for customers.

The idea apparently took many people by surprise since there was no indication that Rakuten would move into the renewable energy field. Japan has long been an early adopter of solar energy and is home to large solar panel makers such as Sharp and Solar Frontier.

The move seems partly fueled by Mikitani’s distaste for nuclear power and by what he sees as a good business opportunity. He isn’t alone. Masayoshi Son, CEO of Softbank, has been critical of nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster in March and earlier this year embarked on an ambitious plan to build solar farms around Japan.

Son said Softbank, which invests heavily in Internet companies (Yahoo (s YAHOO) and Alibaba), will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build 10 solar power plants. The plan is to first build a demonstration plant in the northern island province of Hakkaido.

Rakuten’s Mikitani told reporters that promoting home solar installation through online sales is a more efficient way to popularize solar than through building solar power plants. He has said that because solar equipment is too expensive to be affordable for most consumers, he’s looking at offering low-interest loans or installment plans.

Rakuten still needs to work out the details of its plan to start selling solar panels. It’s unclear if it will match contractors with customers to install solar panels — the days of do-it-yourself solar installations aren’t here yet for most people.

In the U.S., consumers can find some solar panels on e-commerce sites, though the choices are scant. What we do have are home improvement giants such as Home Depot and Lowe’s that are testing the waters of selling solar panels and installation services.

Photo courtesy of CoCreatr via Flickr