Japan Seeks Alternatives to Nuclear Power

on Oct 8, 2012
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In the past two years Europe and China have taken large steps in the renewable energy sector but according to the Financial Times it is becoming more and more likely that Japan will emerge as the next big centre for renewable energy growth.

On September 14 Japan, once the third biggest nuclear generator, announced its plans to phase out of nuclear energy within 30 years as a response to last year’s tragic meltdown at Fukushima. By 2040 the country aims to terminate the operations of all nuclear reactors in the hope of achieving “a society that does not depend on nuclear energy”. The approximate supply gap of 30 percent will have to be offset by the use of renewable energy, oil imports, coal and gas. The new policy is a 180 degree turn from Japan’s previous ambition to raise its nuclear power use to 50 percent of its energy mix by 2030.

Most Japanese businesses strongly opposes the decision: “There is no way we can accept this – I cannot think this is technologically possible,” said Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) as quoted by the BBC. The Island Kingdom has a powerful nuclear industry lobby, which mobilised against the government’s decision and caused ministers to slightly retreat from the initial plan to completely scratch out nuclear energy.

!m[](/uploads/story/534/thumbs/pic1_inline.png)When in the summer Japanese policymakers decided to restart two reactors, they faced widespread anti-nuclear demonstrations in all major cities across the country. Despite the backlash, the Economics Minister Seji Maehara recently announced that more reactors might be turned on as long as they are deemed safe by the newly created nuclear watchdog – the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). “If safety is approved, such reactors would be considered as an important power source. We should rely on nuclear as an energy option for the time being.” said Mr Maehara.

Analysts believe that if the nuclear phase-out policy persists, it will provide a major boost to the renewable energy business in the country and attract foreign investors. “This could provide a significant stimulus for the development of a major renewable energy market in Japan, and underpin the global ambitions of a number of large Japanese industrial companies in the clean energy sector.” opined Jim Long, a global adviser on renewable energy for Greentech Capital Advisors.

To secure a favourable business environment, the Japanese government has plans to invest ¥38 trillion (£300 billion) in solar and wind power over the next 20 years plus an additional ¥84 trillion (£668 billion) in energy-efficient technology. Right now the country is far from a major player in the renewable energy sector. There are several large wind turbine makers such as Fujy Heavy Industries, Japan Steel Works and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries but none of them make it in the list of the top 10 biggest wind companies in the world. The same holds true for its solar producers out of which only two – Kyocera and Sharp – appear on the 2011 list of the 20 major suppliers.
According to the FT Japan’s geography is the main obstacle to investment in the country’s wind power sector. With its limited onshore space and deep coastal waters installation of wind turbines becomes a formidable task. One European company is confident it can wrestle the issue – Siemens has developed a floating wind turbine, which can be installed in deep waters. “It is very suitable for Japan because you have limited areas where you can reach the sea bottom, unlike the UK and elsewhere,” says Mike Hannibal, head of offshore wind at Siemens Wind Power. The project is at least 10 years away from mass deployment yet it does give hope that the smallish archipelago can one day turn into a major location for innovation in the renewable energy industry.

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