Ten years after Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan finding path to renewable energy future

Ten years after the earthquake, tsunami and the collapse of the triple reactor at Fukushima No. 1 power plant in eastern Japan, renewable energy is no longer on the sidelines of the official debate in Japan. Instead, it has become an integral part of government policy, corporate strategy, and the public interest in achieving economic and environmental goals.

While tough cost and technology issues persist, renewable energy sources – particularly solar, wind, geothermal, water and biomass – are expected to play an important role in Japan’s efforts to become climate neutral by 2050.

In 2010, the year before March 11, 2011, disaster renewable sources made up only 9.5% of the national electricity mix. In fiscal 2019, renewable energies expanded to 18% of the electricity generated in Japan.

According to the current long-term energy strategy of the government, renewable energies should account for between 22% and 24% of the national electricity supply by 2030.

“Renewable energies are being rolled out as much as possible,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in January, adding that the government intends to continue using offshore wind and hydrogen ammonia.

Suga’s comments on offshore wind came a month after a meeting between top government and industry leaders announcing the goal of offshore wind farms producing 10 gigawatts of electricity by 2030 and between 30 and 45 gigawatts of electricity by 2040. This corresponds to the power generated by between 30 and 45 nuclear reactors. Only nine reactors are currently officially approved for restart, but only four were actually operational last month.

Feed-in tariff

The shift towards renewable energy sources began to accelerate in August 2011. Pressure within the government, led by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, to increase renewable energy consumption through the adoption of a feed-in tariff has met with fierce opposition from the country’s fossil fuel industry and government nuclear industry, including powerful politicians associated with them.

In one of his final terms as prime minister, Kan and the Democratic Party of Japan-controlled diet passed the tariff, which fixed the purchase price of renewable electricity at fixed prices, attractive to investors.

The tariff came into effect in 2012 and sparked increased investment and interest in forms of renewable energies. Local governors and mayors spoke out in favor of deviating from nuclear energy and investing more in renewable energies. New private institutes for studying renewable energies such as the Tokyo-based Renewable Energy Institute were established.

In Fukushima Prefecture, the nuclear power plant disaster sparked new initiatives by the central government and local determination to use renewable sources far beyond current central government goals.

“Fukushima aims to produce enough renewable energy to meet 100% of prefectural demand by 2040,” said Masao Uchibori, governor of Fukushima, during a presentation at the Foreign Press Center in Japan last month. “Renewable energies covered 34.7% of local demand in the 2019 financial year. At the end of this financial year, we set ourselves a target of 40%, which should increase to 60% by 2030. “

In addition to Fukushima, by January 2050 at the latest, more than 100 public and private organizations had committed to 100% use of renewable energies.

These include Kanagawa Prefecture; the city of Saitama; Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist organization; Research institutes; and companies. Their efforts are also supported by the Foreign, Environment and Defense Ministries, as well as Kumamoto and Tottori Prefectures, and the cities of Yokohama, Kawasaki, Kyoto, Niigata and Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Former Prime Ministers Naoto Kan and Junichiro Koizumi will hold a press conference at the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo on March 1 from AFP-JIJI

Access to the power grid

However, for proponents of renewable energy, it is central government that needs to be more ambitious in setting targets.

A total of 92 companies, including many large international finance, manufacturing, construction and retail companies, are calling on the central government to raise the current renewable energy target from 22% to 24% by 2030 to 40% to 50%. The Japanese Association of Business Executives (Keizai Doyukai), one of the three largest Japanese business associations, has proposed a target of 40% renewable energy by 2030.

“Japan’s Green Growth Strategy 2050 says that renewable energy will make up 50% to 60% of energy sources, just like the 2030 (target of some other) developed countries, with the remainder to be covered by nuclear and thermal power using carbon capture and storage technology and hydrogen ammonia, ”said Mika Obayashi, director of the Renewable Energy Institute, in a statement on the 10th anniversary of the earthquake.

However, the expansion of renewable energy use across the country, regardless of the time frame, is well beyond current levels and faces a number of challenges.

While solar costs in particular have decreased by 90% in the past decade, Obayashi says, two major challenges in achieving the goal of 100% renewable energy include cost differences from other forms of energy and issues related to the cost and ability of renewable energy providers Access to the power grid.

The power grids belong to the large energy supply companies. The acceptance of all renewable energies generated by new companies that have entered the electricity market since 2011 could lead to instability of supply in adverse weather conditions. The government therefore allows them to restrict the supply of renewable energies in the name of grid stability and the flow of electricity without compensating the suppliers.

This has been a problem in places like Hokkaido, Tohoku, and Kyushu, where solar companies have been informed by utility companies that their transmission systems have no spare capacity. It is the utilities, who are often in competition with renewable energy companies, who calculate whether they have spare capacity.

Wind turbines in a facility in California |  REUTERSWind turbines in a facility in California | REUTERS

Whether or not they really do not have the capacity to prevent competition from their own thermal and nuclear power plants has long been a fundamental issue in the Japanese energy debate.

“The main obstacles to rapid and balanced expansion are political, bureaucratic and social. The political challenge is that the regional electricity companies, which have operated as de facto monopolies, have enormous costs for nuclear energy. Nuclear reactor manufacturers like Hitachi have a keen interest in sustaining nuclear power, as do some unions, ”said Paul Mitford, professor of political science and director of the Japan program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

who is responsible

The rush for renewable energies over the past 10 years has also led to local complaints about noise and landscape pollution from solar panels and wind turbines.

Many towns and villages have local ordinances restricting the construction of renewable energy systems, especially wind turbines, which have long had noise complaints from nearby residents. To address growing public concerns and prevent more local opposition, the Environment Ministry plans to introduce a new system that will allow local governments to establish renewable energy zones.

Under the proposed system, renewable energy companies wishing to operate a solar or wind farm in a particular location would have to explain in their business plan what landscape and noise control measures they are taking, how local employment will be encouraged, and promise to contribute to the provision Electricity in times of natural disasters.

The business plan would be reviewed by local officials. Only those with their approval could officially apply for approval to start the project. Changes to the relevant law are proposed in the current session of the state parliament and, if approved, would come into force as early as the 2022 financial year.

As a result, the changes in government and business attitudes towards the use of renewable energy since 2011 have been dramatic. Discussions have shifted from whether renewable energies were feasible to how much and when to increase them. One of the more fundamental questions, however, is who should be responsible for this.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is currently issuing licenses to renewable energy companies. However, the rules and regulations set by the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure, and even the Ministry of Agriculture must be followed.

As a former prime minister who enforced the feed-in tariff law, Kan – now a lower house legislator in the constitutional Democratic Party of Japan – is pushing for renewable energy policy to be put under a ministry.

According to Kan, there is enough arable land that can be used multiple times in combination with renewable energy sources such as solar energy.

“If we introduce enough agricultural photovoltaics (solar), it could meet all of Japan’s electricity needs,” Kan told journalists at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan earlier this month. “This is something that the Department of Agriculture is promoting. Given the advanced age of many farmers, you can consider photovoltaics on farms as a way to revitalize the agribusiness. The Ministry of Agriculture could change its name to Ministry of Agriculture and Renewable Energy. “

Another option would be to create a Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, similar to the one in India. Former Liberal Democratic Party prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, once a nuclear power advocate and now a strong opponent, said at the press conference with Kan that such an option was slightly within the realm of possibility.

“It would not be difficult to create such a ministry if the prime minister chose to do so,” he said.

At a time of both misinformation and too much information Quality journalism is more important than ever.
By signing up, you can help us find the right story.




Energy, Naoto Kan, utilities, Junichiro Koizumi, renewable energy, electricity, feed-in tariffs, biofuel, hydropower, wave power, nuclear power, 3/11 10th anniversary

Comments are closed.