27 Avril 2018
April 21, 2018
EDITORIAL: Radically new thinking needed for Japan’s energy strategy
An expert panel reviewing the nation's energy strategy for the period to 2050 has proposed a number of initiatives to meet challenges stemming from radical changes in the global energy landscape.
The strategy is centered on ways to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint to combat global warming.
The industry ministry panel sensibly argues that renewable energy sources like solar and wind power should become the “mainstay” of energy production.
Regrettably, however, its proposal remains wedded to the nation’s energy policy legacy. It is based, for instance, on the assumption that nuclear power generation will continue. As a result, the strategy fails to serve as a convincing vision for the nation’s energy future.
The ideas will be incorporated into the revised Basic Energy Plan that the government intends to revise this summer. They will also constitute core components of the long-term plan to reduce Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The Diet, along with related the ministries and agencies, should try to chart a path to a better future for the nation’s energy supply through debate based on a broader perspective.
In developing its proposal, the panel took stock of the policy implications of the Paris climate agreement.
To achieve the government’s official target of an 80-percent reduction in Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it is vital to promote a shift to carbon-free energy sources.
The panel calls for “exploring all options” in this regard.
What is especially notable about the panel’s proposal is the statement that renewable energy sources should become “main power sources that are economically viable.”
Given that Japan has fallen behind the global trend of rapid expansion of renewable energy, the new energy strategy should be designed to move up the government’s clean energy agenda.
Promoting green energy, however, requires dealing with a broad array of tough challenges, such as lowering costs that are higher than in many other countries, enhancing the power grid and developing more efficient storage batteries. The government needs to act swiftly to devise a specific plan to accelerate the use of renewable energy sources.
The panel contends that atomic energy is an option for building a low-carbon society on grounds that nuclear power generation doesn’t emit carbon dioxide.
But it offers no viable solutions to the raft of problems plaguing nuclear power, such as the erosion of public trust in this energy source in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, difficulties over the disposal of radioactive waste and the problem-plagued nuclear fuel recycling program.
Any attempt to keep the nation dependent on atomic energy without offering solutions to these problems will never gain broad public support.
A growing number of countries have been adopting powerful policy measures to curb CO2 emissions, such as a carbon tax, which is a fee imposed on the use of carbon-based fuels according to the amounts of the CO2 emissions, and emissions trading initiatives.
But the panel’s proposal doesn’t refer to any such steps, making the strategy a less-than-satisfactory policy response to harmful climate change.
To be sure, there are so many unpredictable variables that make it difficult to map out a plausible energy policy vision for three decades down the road, ranging from future technological innovations, the long-term economic viability of various energy sources and the political situation in countries supplying energy sources.
It is, therefore, important for the government to be ready to make flexible policy reviews in response to changes in relevant variables.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry says it will consider creating a new organization in which experts would analyze situations concerning energy supply and related technological trends to provide materials helpful for policy decisions.
The new body should be based on a system to ensure that members can offer a wide range of ideas and information from viewpoints unfettered by influence from the forces promoting the current policy so that timely and reasonable policy proposals can be made.
The development of the energy policy has been led by the ministry, the industries it regulates and a small number of experts linked to them.
This traditional approach to policy development should be changed to enable the government to make effective policy responses to drastic changes occurring in the sector, which is in a transitional period.