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Don't put renewables on the back burner

 March 12, 2015


Editorial: Japan must not miss the renewable energy bandwagon



The disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has shattered the "safety myth" of nuclear power, attesting to the difficulty quake-prone Japan has in coexisting with nuclear plants. It has also sparked within many a desire to create a society that does not rely on nuclear power by boosting renewable energy and promoting energy conservation.

Four years have passed since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. While the public's wish remains unchanged, the government seems to have forgotten about the disaster. In discussion about the country's future energy mix that started in January, it has attached priority to maintaining nuclear power. This will not lead to any energy reforms that satisfy public expectations.

The expansion of renewables is a global trend. Renewable energy is growing not only in Europe but also in China. Alas, Japan is ranked only 19th in the world in the amount of wind power generated. While solar power initially grew rapidly in Japan, momentum has been dampened by revisions to the feed-in tariff system, after utilities suspended purchases of renewable energy.

At this rate, Japan will be left behind and lose sight of business opportunities. It's about time for the country to change its mindset with its eyes set on a new era, and to drastically review its infrastructure and old systems centering on nuclear and thermal power generation.

From a short-term perspective, it is important to ensure that the feed-in tariff system does not lose momentum. Rules have been changed for solar energy purchases under the pretext of preventing oversupply, but the move is based on the unrealistic premise that most of the existing nuclear reactors will go online.

Under the current system, energy interchange among power companies is designed to put renewable energy on the back burner. If the government is to review the policy of prioritizing nuclear power and the current system, there should be sufficient room for accommodating renewable energy.

In the meantime, we must also encourage the growth of wind and geothermal power instead of relying solely upon solar energy, while keeping an eye on potential electricity rate hikes. It is important to review the prices for purchasing renewables in an appropriate manner.

In the medium and long run, we will need to give attention to the effect of liberalization of electricity retailing and the separation of power generation and transmission. Under these reforms, utilities will no longer be able to monopolize power transmission networks. This will help spur renewable energy. Electricity deregulation is believed to have played a role in promoting the introduction of renewables in European countries.

Some point to the potential risk of power outages due to a surplus of solar and wind power destabilizing the power grid. In Europe, renewable energy supplies can be adjusted across different countries as their transmission networks are interconnected, but that's not the case in Japan. However, such problems are realistic only after the renewable energy sources increase. We must boost renewables first and foremost. If we connect divided transmission networks over a wider area, we may benefit from the same kind of effect as in Europe.

The public might need to shoulder heavier costs as a result of an increased renewable energy supply. In order to come up with solutions to this and other issues, it is imperative to draw a concrete image of energy reform based on the premise of less reliance on nuclear power. In no way have we time to be racking our brains about how to maintain nuclear power.

March 12, 2015(Mainichi Japan)



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