4 Août 2012
August 3, 2012
As the government works out a new energy strategy following the outbreak of the crisis at the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, it is under pressure to promote both power conservation and economic growth.
The three scenarios for Japan's new energy policy place the ratio of atomic power to Japan's total electric power generation as of 2030 at zero percent, 15 percent and 20-25 percent, respectively. They are based on the assumption that power consumption across the country will decrease 10 percent from 2010 levels by that time.
All members of the public as well as businesses are required to save energy to both reduce Japan's reliance on atomic power and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. The impact of such energy-saving efforts on Japan's economy can be minimized through technological innovation that increases energy efficiency. If innovative energy-saving technology is developed, it will contribute to economic growth. Government assistance in such efforts is indispensable.
In all three scenarios, the ratio of atomic power to Japan's total electric power generation lies below the 26 percent mark seen in 2010 -- prior to the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
If power generation at thermal power plants is increased to make up for a power shortage as a result of cutting down on the country's dependence on atomic power, then carbon dioxide emissions will rise. The promotion of renewable energy, such as solar power and wind power, and energy-saving measures will therefore play an important part in helping prevent global warming.
Electric power is indispensable in our daily lives. The appropriate use of electric power, such as that for air conditions to protect the health of people during a heat wave, should not be reduced. The important question is how to effectively slash energy consumption without adversely affecting people's lives.
Japan has become the world's most advanced country in terms of saving energy as a result of efforts that both the government and the private sector have made since the 1973 oil crisis. By 2009 Japan's gross domestic product had increased by 2.3 times from the level seen in 1973, but its energy consumption was just 1.3 times higher. Japan has managed to achieve both energy conservation and economic growth.
Industries, in particular, succeeded in reducing energy consumption by 15 percent over that period as a result of technological innovation and the streamlining of their operations. Business leaders have pointed out that industries cannot reduce their energy consumption any further, with one comparing additional energy conservation requests to "wringing out a dry towel." The Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) and other business organizations have criticized the government's requirement that businesses further cut their use of energy, as it could hinder economic growth.
However, development of cutting-edge energy-saving technology would not only create new domestic demand but also create new opportunities for Japanese businesses on the international market. Industries are urged to proactively develop such technology.
For example, batteries that store a massive amount of electric power at night -- when the demand for power declines -- then release the power during the daytime are effective in increasing the efficiency of electric power use. Developing compact and high-capacity batteries is an urgent task. The technology of such batteries could be applied to electric vehicles, contributing to Japanese automakers' international competitiveness.
The spread of smart grids, which utilize information technology to adjust electric power supply to the appropriate level, is also believed to be a key to increasing the efficiency of electric power use.
The government should support these efforts to boost energy efficiency through regulatory reform and financial assistance with the ultimate goal of substantially reducing energy consumption while spurring economic growth.