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The challenge of renewables in Japan

March 12, 2018


News Navigator: What issues are there concerning the spread of renewable energy?



The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about renewable energy in Japan, and the issues that surround its continued expansion in the country.

Question: What's the situation concerning the introduction of renewable energy in Japan?

Answer: The government has set a target of having 22 to 24 percent of domestic power generation stemming from renewable energy (including hydraulic power) by 2030. Excluding hydraulic power, this percentage increased drastically from 1.1 percent in fiscal 2010 to 7.8 percent in fiscal 2016. The country has already achieved nearly half the 2030 target, with the exception of hydraulic power.


Q: So things are progressing smoothly?


A: The real challenge is from now. In July 2012, the country introduced a feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme, under which electric power companies are obliged to purchase electricity from renewable energy sources at a fixed price. As a result, the introduction of renewable energy suddenly increased.


However, renewable energy facilities relating to solar and wind power are being concentrated in certain regions such as Hokkaido, Tohoku and Kyushu -- where land prices are cheap and conditions for generating power are good -- resulting in a shortage of utility line capacity to carry electricity into urban areas. Therefore, unless new power lines are built, the introduction of further renewable energy will be difficult.


Q: So the problem can be solved by building more power lines?


A: That's easier said than done. It takes about 10 years to construct major power lines, as land needs to be bought and iron towers need to be built. In October 2016, Tohoku Electric Power Co. searched for renewable energy operators capable of generating about 2.8 million kilowatts (kW), as part of a power line construction plan, and received a response from operators able to generate a total of 15.45 million kW. However, so far, construction has failed to get off the ground, as Tohoku Electric Power is unable to buy power from the majority of applicants.


Q: How can the situation be resolved?


A: In fiscal 2018, the government is set to introduce an initiative called "Connect and Manage," which will make effective use of the surplus capacity of existing power lines. Until now, the capacity of power lines had been set with emergencies in mind, and more than half of the lines' capacity is empty. As a result, there are plans to make more efficient use of these lines based on the actual amount of power that is being generated.


Looking ahead to the initiative, Tohoku Electric has changed the capacity of newly established power lines allocated to outsiders from about 2.8 million kW to 3.5 to 4.5 million kW. However, this is still not enough. A long-term plan spanning several decades is required. (Answers by the Business News Department)


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