Approximately 70 percent of global carbon emissions come from the world’s energy sector, and globally, energy use is predicted to increase over the next 25 years by 35 percent.[i] Worldwide, the International Renewable Energy Agency recently revealed, roughly 6.5 million people were employed in the renewable energy industry in 2013. This was a rise from 5.7 million in 2012. The solar PV industry is the one which employs the most people.[ii]

Pew Charitable Trusts recorded that, for 2013, Japan experienced the fastest investment growth in the world in clean energy investment, increasing 80 percent, to almost $29 billion.[iii] March 2011 saw the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, which led to the deaths of 15,887 people and a further 2,615 people recorded missing (according to the National Policy Agency of Japan).[iv] As well as this, the quake and tsunami caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The disaster forced the Japanese people to reassess their relationship with nature and with the ways they generate electricity.[v] Historically, Japan has relied heavily on nuclear power but, in the wake of Fukushima, all of Japan’s nuclear reactors have been shut off, forcing the country to generate its electricity from other sources.

According to Pew, ‘Japan jumped from fifth to third place among G-20 nations for overall clean energy investment, reflecting a priority since the Fukushima nuclear disaster for new energy alternatives. In 2013, Japan became the fastest-growing clean energy market in the world, growing by 80 percent, to $28.6 billion. Most striking was a near doubling of investment in Japan’s solar sector, which received $28 billion in 2013, almost 30 percent of the G-20 total.’

In April this year, when Japan’s Cabinet approved a new Basic Energy Plan, there was some hope that renewables would remain central to Japan’s future energy production. However, the focus of the plan was on the role of nuclear energy. The plan stressed policies for securing fossil fuels, energy saving strategies, and increasing renewable energy (especially geothermal, biomass and wind), as well as advocating liquid natural gas generation. It argued it was important to keep reforming the gas and electricity markets and also develop new technologies including hydrogen storage. The plan represents a marked departure from the ruling centre-right Liberal Democratic Party’s predecessors (the centre-left Democratic Party) who sought a zero nuclear energy mix. Despite the plan’s claim that Japan has ‘the world’s highest level of safety’ with regards nuclear regulation, many of the public are still nervous about nuclear power in a country where earthquakes are common.[vi] This was a point also considered by Friends of the Earth Japan who claim despite the Liberal Democratic Party’s desire for a nuclear future, ‘most people in Japan still support a nuclear phase-out’. The environmental group has been involved in a public campaign against this plan.[vii]

Dr Ken Koyama, Chief Economist and Manager Director of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, wrote a special bulletin in May about Japan’s future energy challenges. Arguing that Japan now has to achieve ‘the “3 Es plus S” (energy security, environmental conservation, economic efficiency and safety)’, the new Basic Energy Plan, he claims, ‘pursues the best mix of all available energy sources including nuclear energy while acknowledge that each energy source has both advantages and disadvantages’.[viii] If Japan is to offer anything on the world stage with regards emissions reductions, its future energy needs have to be considered. About the plan, Toshimitsu Motegi, Trade and Industry Minister, told reporters that ‘The plan makes clear we will reduce reliance on nuclear power through a variety of measures’.[ix] Considering nuclear power to be a baseload power source, there is no indication in the plan of how it will make up the energy mix of the country, in comparison with other energy sources.

Of all the renewable sources of energy available in Japan, solar is the most popular, due to its ease in construction (photovoltaic cells can potentially be installed anywhere there is sunlight and they are easy to install).[x] In the waters of Kagoshima Bay, Japan’s biggest solar project could offer some hope for the future of renewables. Japan’s largest solar power plant to date, built offshore on reclaimed land in the bay, was completed last November, generating enough electricity to power 22,000 homes.[xi] Figures from the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation reveal a year-on-year increase in renewable energy up to 2012, and monthly electricity production from renewables (excluding hydro) just passing 2,000 GWh in December 2013.[xii] Whilst the Japanese renewable energy sector – up to 2013 – might have been growing, in 2012, only 8.8 percentage share of the total energy production in Japan came from renewables.[xiii]

Wind power has been much less successful, partly due to the fact that there is little flat land to make onshore wind viable. The limited amount of land that is available also limits the size of onshore wind farms. By contrast, Japan has a large sea area. Potential offshore wind resources have been estimated to be around 1,600 gigawatts which equates to about six and a half times Japan’s total current power generation capability. Bottom mounted wind turbines – those which are fixed to the seabed – are common in Britain’s coastal waters, but as these are susceptible to natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis or tidal waves caused by typhoons, there is an issue with using this method of construct offshore wind in Japan. Instead, floating platforms have been developed. One pilot project of these type of wind turbines is taking place off the coast of Fukushima, where the disaster occurred.[xiv]

Japan’s population was estimated to be 127,298,000 in October 2013, down by 217,000 the previous year. This was the third annual decrease in a row.[xv] Japan faces a number of challenges in the future, not least owing to the size of its population, which is approximately 128 million and is predicted to fall to around 87 million by 2060. At the same time, the amount of inhabited land is also set to decline.

Whilst many of the figures, such as those from Pew, show the investment in renewables in Japan up to 2013, it remains to be seen how the Basic Energy Plan launched in April this year will affect the figures. With the total renewable energy contribution across the world, for the first time in a century, growing faster than fossil and nuclear energy together, Japan has a real opportunity to be a leader in this, by investing heavily in renewable energy and disinvesting in fossil fuels.[xvi] As the economy stagnates and the population falls, Japan has to seek new, sustainable electricity generation for the future.

 

Sources:

[i] Pew Charitable Trusts, ‘Accelerating clean energy solutions that improve the economy, national security and the environment’: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/clean-energy-project.

[ii] International Renewable Energy Agency, ‘Press Release: Renewable Energy Provides 6.5 Million Jobs Globally’, 11 May 2014: http://www.irena.org/News/Description.aspx?NType=A&mnu=cat&PriMenuID=16&CatID=84&News_ID=360.

[iii] Pew Charitable Trusts, ‘Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2013’, 3 April 2014: http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2014/04/03/whos-winning-the-clean-energy-race-2013.

[iv] Damage Situation and Police Countermeasures associated with the 2011 Tohoku district – off the Pacific Ocean Earthquake, 10 June 2014: http://www.npa.go.jp/archive/keibi/biki/higaijokyo_e.pdf.

[v] Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan, ‘Living in harmony with nature: The National Biodiversity Strategy of Japan, 2012-2020’, September 2012: http://www.biodic.go.jp/biodiversity/about/library/files/nbsap2012-2020/nbsap2012-2020_cop11ver_EN.pdf.

[vi] Foreign & Commonwealth Office, ‘Japan’s new energy plan: less nuclear but not zero’, 16 April 2014: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/japans-new-energy-plan-less-nuclear-but-not-zero-april-2014/japans-new-energy-plan-less-nuclear-but-not-zero-april-2014.

[vii] Friends of the Earth Japan, ‘Nuclear and Energy Program’: http://www.foejapan.org/en/energy/top.html.

[viii] Ken Koyama, ‘IPCC Releases Summary of New Report on Climate Change Mitigation’, 16 April 2014, p. 2: http://eneken.ieej.or.jp/data/5464.pdf.

[ix] Reuters, ‘UPDATE 3 – Japan approves energy plan reinstating nuclear power’, 11 April 2014: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/04/11/japan-energy-nuclear-idUKL3N0N308Z20140411.

[x] Japan for Sustainability, ‘Renewable Energy in Japan – Current Trends Show Promise and Opportunities’, 17 December 2013: http://www.japanfs.org/en/news/archives/news_id034505.html.

[xi] Vicky Gan, ‘Is Japan’s Offshore Solar Power Plant the Future of Renewable Energy?’, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2014: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovations/Is-Japans-Offshore-Solar-Power-Plant-the-Future-of-Renewable-Energy-180949453/?no-ist.

[xii] Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, ‘Energy supply by Renewable Energy’: http://jref.or.jp/en/energy/statistics2/energy_02.php#energy_0202.

[xiii] Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, ‘Share and trends of renewable energy in total energy supply and consumption’: http://jref.or.jp/en/energy/statistics2/energy_01.php#energy_0101.

[xiv] Japan for Sustainability, ‘Japan’s First Floating Offshore Wind Power Project Making Progress, Addressing Challenges’, 4 March 2014: http://www.japanfs.org/en/news/archives/news_id034728.html; Fukushima Offshore Wind Consortium: http://www.fukushima-forward.jp/english/index.html.

[xv] Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, ‘Current Population Estimates as of 1 October 2013’: http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/jinsui/2013np/index.htm#a15k25-a.

[xvi] Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, ‘A Statement on the Basic Energy Plan of Japan’, 21 April 2014: http://jref.or.jp/en/activities/reports_20140411.php; Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, ‘Energy policy for the economy of Japan, instead of one protecting the old Electric Power Companies’, 12 June 2014: http://jref.or.jp/en/column/column_20140612.php.