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Greening Japan’s energy

By Dave Elliott

As part of its policy of moving away from nuclear power, the Japanese government is pushing ahead with renewables and improved energy efficiency. Given the urgent need to cut energy demand, following the shut down of all its nuclear plants in May, it encouraged voluntary energy saving initiatives, with some success. Although, despite major protest, two nuclear plants have now been started up again, the summer air conditioning load may still present problems, and the energy savings programme is being expanded. The government has called for 15% cuts. It has also requested retailers and home appliance makers to voluntarily halt production and sale of inefficient incandescent lightbulbs. Under Japans existing basic energy plan, all lighting products were already meant to be replaced by LED or other low energy lights by 2020. Japan’s Institute of Energy Economics says that, if all incandescent bulbs/fluorescent lamps currently used were replaced by LED lights, the total annual power saved would be 9%, the equivalent output of 13 nuclear reactors.

Understandably, given that Japan is a series of relatively crowded Island with constraints on land use, the renewables programme is focused heavily on offshore resources. The government is supporting the development of a range of marine power technologies with plans for a series of trials next year. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Environment and others have earmarked a total of 10 billion yen for promoting marine renewable energies in the fiscal 2012 budget. Most of the funds are for projects related to floating wind turbines.

Four different designs for offshore wind floating platforms will be installed off the coast of Fukushima in 2013 and 2014, as part of a demonstration project funded by $300m the Japanese government Ministry of Trade, Economic and Industry. Eleven companies and organisations will collaborate on ‘FORWARD’, the Fukushima floating Offshore Wind farm Demonstration project, with Japanese conglomerate Marubeni leading. Companies contributing innovative floating platform designs include IHI Marine United, Mitsubishi and Mitsui. The port of Onahama, near the city of Iwaki, will serve the Forward project. The government hopes that the Forward project will result in the emergence of one or more commercially-viable designs for offshore wind floating platforms.

A second demonstration project, funded by Japan’s environment ministry, in the Goto islands, off the coast west of Nagasaki, is already underway, with a small 110kW turbine on a floating platform. It’s planned to replace it with a 2MW turbine next year. In parallel there’s a long planned 2.4MW fixed offshore wind project off the coast from Choshi, east of Tokyo, backed by NEDO, which should start up in January.

Windpower Monthly reported that the first stage of the more ambitious FORWARD project, in 2013, will involve installation of a floating 2MW downwind turbine, on a compact semi-submersible base. In 2014, two further turbines, 7MW designs by Mitsubishi, will be installed, one to be carried by a v-shape semi-sub and the other by an advanced spar-float, possibly like the Norwegian Sway /Hywind designs.

Given that the area, about 20km off the Fukushima coast, has suffered radioactive contamination, the future of fishing there is uncertain so there may be no conflict; indeed offshore wind could provide alternative employment for former fishermen, if this proves necessary. Certainly this industry could expand. According to early reports, Japan could have up to 1GW of offshore wind capacity in place by 2020,

In addition, Japan is following up other offshore options. The marine energy programme will be expanded in 2013 to include tidal and wave energy, along with OTEC ocean thermal gradient technologies. Tests are likely to be carried out off the Tohoku & Kyushu regions, in co-operation with the private sector and universities. In parallel, the Ocean Energy Association of Japan (OEAJ), is to set up a Japanese Marine Energy Centre (JMEC), with help from EMEC in Scotland. It’s a two-way exercise: Kawasaki Heavy Industries is to test a newly developed tidal energy system at EMEC on the Orkneys.

Some of the more developed renewables are also being pushed hard. PV solar is already in quite widespread use, and being mostly on rooftops, is not land-using. To accelerate consumer uptake, in June the government approved Feed-In Tariff (FiT) subsidies under which utilities will pay 42yen (53 U.S. cents) per kWh for solar-generated electricity, double the tariff offered in Germany and more than three times that paid in China. Despite the land use constraints, there is also some potential for on-land wind and wind power will get at least 23.1 yen/ kWh in the new FiT system, compared with as low as 4.87 euro cents (6 U.S. cents) in Germany. The new wind tariff converts to about 18p/kWh, which compares to 5p/kWh (10p/kWh offshore) available for wind projects under the Renewables Obligation in the UK. So they are really pushing it. Geothermal energy is also being backed. It is already widely used for heating. So is solar thermal- there is over 3.7GW(th) installed on rooftops. We can expect to see much more.

However there is still a long way to go: renewables, apart from large hydro, account for only 1% of power supply in Japan. But the government estimates that, on current plans, capacity from renewables will rise to 22 GW by March 2013, up from 19.5 GW now, with 2GW of that from solar panels. And CLSA Asia-Pacific say solar capacity will jump to about 19GW by 2016 from about 5 GW or less now, while wind may reach 7.6 GW. See http://tinyurl.com/cbox2m7.

Looking further ahead, the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF) and the German based Desertec Foundation have teamed up to promote an Asia Supergrid to connect the national grids of Japan, Korea, China, Mongolia and Russia. This they say could open up opportunities for renewable energy development, with the power produced being moved to where it’s needed most. So Japan, with fewer areas on land in which to build renewable energy projects, could benefit from on-land wind power produced in places like Inner Mongolia, where potential capacity far exceeds demand, and possibly also from CSP solar projects in the Gobi desert. See http://www.gobitec.org/.

Supergrid links to other countries in the region would clearly help Japan and will be necessary for grid balancing if it is to expand its indigenous renewables significantly. That is certainly what the JREF wants. It says that ‘stronger renewable energy targets for Japan are essential. The current provisional target of a 10% share of energy by 2020 is not enough’.
The government is about to produce a new long-term energy plan. Offshore wind is an obvious option. There had already been calls for 25 GW on shore and 25 GW offshore and the Japanese Wind Power Association has put the longer-term wind potential at over 200 GW, on and offshore, even taking account of locational constraints. That is similar to Japans total present energy generating capacity. It will be interesting to see what the government decides to do in it new plan. According to Reuters, an early draft said that the aim would be to create a 50 trillion yen ($628 billion) green energy market by 2020 through deregulation and subsidies to promote development of renewable energy and low-emission cars.

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