“If Japan has the motivation, it can do this, too. We have the technological know-how. Japan can do anything that Germany can.”
That’s the official word about the future of renewable energy in Japan from the Environment Ministry’s Low Carbon Society Promotion Office, at least as far as deputy director Sei Kato is concerned.
Since the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, public confidence in nuclear power fell and the prime minister swore to slash nuclear power. Since the country depended on nuclear power to meet 30 percent of its national energy demand prior to last year, the country plunged into a national crisis. Many Japanese citizens found the months immediately following the disaster to be the worst since the post-World War II years.
The Japanese government is scrambling to get the nation’s energy supply back up to meet demand, particularly since they are heading into the hottest months of the year. Demand for electricity will outstrip supply dramatically–by as much as 16% during peak hours according to experts.
Switching from a dependence on nuclear power to a mix of oil, gas, hydropower and renewable energy has been costly. Fox News estimated, via the International Energy Agency, that shutting all 50 of Japan’s nuclear plants increases oil demand by 465,000 barrels a day to 4.5 million barrels a day, raising Japan’s daily costs by about $100 million.
As a result, Japan posted its largest trade deficit ever in 2011 and has become even more dependent on gas and oil imports; Japan is resource-poor in those fossil fuels, which now account for 90 percent of total energy generation in the country.
As a sustainable alternative, Japan is now considering ambitious renewable energy targets, anywhere from 25 to 35 percent of total energy production in the next two decades, inspired by Germany’s dramatic renewable energy revolution in recent years. Germany increased its renewable energy production from a mere 5 percent in 1990 to 20 percent in 2010, and still growing thanks to overwhelmingly successful feed-in tariff programs (which are now being scaled back in order to stabilize the market).
While the Japanese public is determined to survive without nuclear power, it will be a struggle to get renewable energy projects up and running in the country.
Utility companies with billions invested in nuclear power plants are lobbying to have their power sources reintroduced, and renewable energy developments for their part will require billions more in investment capital. Regulations aren’t favorable towards renewables at this point in time, and the national power grid isn’t designed to handle the sometimes-volatile contributions from energy sources like wind and solar.
But despite obstacles, Japan is already moving forward: last week the government approved feed-in tariffs to stimulate renewable energy investment. The tariffs will guarantee higher returns for renewable energy than for traditional energy.