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How committeed is Japan to sustainable energy?

How committeed is Japan to sustainable energy?

October 17, 2018


EDITORIAL: Commitment to sustainable energy tested like never before




With its pathetically limited natural resources, it is nothing short of sheer wastefulness for Japan to "throw away" any ready-to-use natural energy.


What the nation should be doing instead is to think how best to put that available energy to maximum use.


Kyushu Electric Power Co. required some solar power plant operators in the region to temporarily suspend operations, explaining that daytime supply of power was in surplus and tipping the supply-demand balance, potentially inviting major power outages that must be prevented at all costs.


The utility's decision was fully in keeping with government rules, and was exercised for the first time in Japan, save for remote islands.


Thanks to its plentiful sunshine, Kyushu has made strong leaps in solar power generation. Until recently, Kyushu Electric dealt with daytime power surpluses by curbing thermal power output and using the surpluses for pumped hydroelectric energy storage for load balancing.


But such measures have proved insufficient of late.


If the use of sustainable energy continues to grow, this will likely lead to more temporary shutdowns at power plants using renewable energy around the nation, which in turn will shrink operators' revenues and may stymie the growth in use of sustainable energy.


To prevent that from happening, there is clearly a crucial need to be able to adjust and balance climate-caused load fluctuations from solar and wind power generation.

The government and the power industry need to work out countermeasures without delay.


Systems of power storage involve large-capacity storage batteries and pumped hydroelectric energy storage. Another good option is to build wide-coverage grids to transmit power from one region to another.


However, these types of infrastructure reinforcement will be quite costly, and the question, of course, is who foots the bill. Obviously, any project of this nature must be planned with utmost efficiency and due consideration for the needs or circumstances of each region.


Government assistance will also be needed for the development of new technologies, such as for low-cost batteries.


But there also are ideas that can be tried out by individual and corporate consumers alike. One, for instance, would be to run water heaters during solar power generation's peak load hours. Applying a discount rate for those hours should serve as a consumer incentive. Utilities need to be innovative.


Kyushu Electric's latest move showed that as more idle nuclear reactors go back online, the less chances there will be for reliance on sustainable energy. The utility's operation of four nuclear reactors has had the effect of rendering the existing solar power redundant.


The government's "priority power supply rule" places the highest emphasis on the operation of "long-term fixed power sources," which include nuclear power plants. According to the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry, this is necessitated by the "technical difficulty of adjusting nuclear power output."


But the government's Basic Energy Plan, revised this year, aims to position sustainable energy as the main power source. If this is the case, how could it be appropriate to hold onto the "priority power supply rule" that is becoming an obstacle to that aim?


The root cause of the present problems lies in the fact the Basic Energy Plan continues to position nuclear power generation as the fundamental power source.


Before anything, the government must rethink this situation and seriously consider specific ways to reduce the nation's reliance on nuclear energy.


The government is being tested on its stated commitment to making sustainable energy the main power source.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 17


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