By Dave Elliott
In my last post I looked at developments in China and India, where renewables have been playing key and increasing roles, with China clearly in the lead. By contrast, until recently, in Japan renewables had been given a low priority, but following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Japan is now pushing ahead with some ambitious offshore wind projects, 1.45GW in all, using floating wind turbines, and a large solar PV programme, helped by lucrative Feed In Tariff subsidies.
Japan installed 11.1 GW of new renewables between the start of its feed-in tariffs in July 2012 and the end of June 2014. 10.9 GW of it was solar PV, according to MITI. Overall, Japan has given the go-ahead to 71.8 GW of renewable energy projects, some 96% of which are solar. PV is an obvious roof-top option, but wind is likely to catch up:the longer term potential is large – especially for offshore wind – perhaps 100 GW is possible. The 2 MW floating offshore wind project now running off the coast from Fukushima is a symbolic start.
Interestingly, though roof-top sites for PV solar abound, as in India, given the land scarcity, some floating PV arrays are being deployed on reservoirs, including a 1.7 MW array on Nishihira Pond and a 1.2 MW array on Higashihira Pond, in Hyogo Prefecture: http://global.kyocera.com/news/2014/0901_imka.html There are also plans for a 70MW mega floating PV scheme offshore at Kagoshima in south Japan, near Sakurajima volcano: www.cnet.com/uk/news/kyocera-launches-70-megawatt-solar-plant-largest-in-japan/
Although land-use constraints are an issue, the longer term potential is still substantial. See my earlier post, which mentioned a ‘100% by 2050’ ISEP renewables scenario, with around 50 GW of wind, much of it offshore, and 140 GW of PV. More on that at: www.isep.or.jp/en/library/2918 The 2011 Advanced Energy [R]evolution report on Japan from Greenpeace is also worth looking at: www.greenpeace.org/japan/Global/japan/pdf/er_report.pdf
For the moment however, current outline plans only envisage renewables expanding to supply around 30% of electricity by 2030, although details of the overall likely mix are scarce – the contribution from nuclear remains uncertain, with all the nuclear plants still closed. In a March 2014 poll for the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, 69% of respondents said nuclear should be phased out over time or immediately, and though the government is pushing for local restarts, that has run into difficulties. For example, a local district court in Fukui prefecture has ruled against the proposed restart of the Oi plant, and another court has blocked the restart of Takahama 3 and 4. Earthquake risk issues are central. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has accepted an evaluation report into an earthquake fault zone directly below the reactor building of Tsuruga unit 2 in Fukui prefecture. It was active and could cause a quake, making a restart of the 1160 MW PWR unlikely. The NRA is still looking at the Higashidori plant in Aomori Prefecture; that may have an active fault underneath. Some plants have been given the provisional go-ahead to restart, but the restart of the Sendai plant on Kyushu island has been delayed. It’s 60 km from an active volcano. The Regulator says it must plan for eruption scenarios where heavy ash fall may compromise personnel, equipment, cooling water and grid power supply. In all, 19 plants (out of the surviving 48) have applied for restarts, but getting them eligible for that will be costly, with safety upgrade costs, including extra sea defences, put at $12.3 bn. Given the costs, Kansai Electric Power Co and Japan Atomic Power Co have decided to retire three nuclear plants shut down after Fukushima, rather than apply to restart them. More may follow.
Meanwhile, work continues on the decades-long task of making the wrecked Fukushima plants safer, and also on decontamination of the land in the Fukushima exclusion zone, a painstakingly slow and difficult process, with top soil and biomass being collected and bagged: www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20140610_29.html.
More positively, local renewable energy projects are emerging. Renewable Energy World has reported on an interesting programme in Fukushima prefecture, which it says wants ‘zero dependency on nuclear energy’ and has a goal to meet 100% of its electricity needs with renewable energy by 2040. It aims to have 805 MW of installed capacity by 2016, equivalent to 24% of the retail electricity demand of the prefecture, with solar PV accounting for 447 MW, rising by 2030 to 2 GW. Renewable Energy World said ‘This goal appears to be easily attainable. As of January 2014, Fukushima already had nearly 1.6 GW of FIT-approved PV capacity’. There’s already a 1.2 MW PV system at Fukushima airport and a 1 MW community PV project system being built in Iwaki city. In addition, several golf courses, closed after the earthquake and/or contamination threats, have been turned into solar generation sites, including a 26 MW solar project under construction in Sukagawa city: www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2014/05/fukushima-japan-rebuilding-communities-with-solar-commits-to-a-100-percent-renewable-energy-by-2040?
The Japanese experience may well be relevant to other island countries in Asia and the Pacific area. For example, Taiwan, where in April last year, following continued massive public demonstrations (200,000 strong), work on a new part-built $10bn nuclear plant was abandoned. There is also pressure to close the existing plants and focus instead on renewables. A target of around 10 GW by 2030 had already been set, including 4.2 GW of PV planned for 2020 and 4.2 GW of wind, mostly offshore, by 2030. That may now have to be accelerated. Certainly, as in Japan, there are strong pressures for a nuclear-free renewables-based future.
The situation in South Korea is somewhat different: it is still backing nuclear strongly, although it has recently revised its expansion target downwards and the industry has been hit by a long running corporate corruption scandal concerning safety assessments. However South Korea has a renewables programme and has pioneered tidal power with a 254 MW tidal barrage. The current plan is for 5.5% of capacity to be renewable-driven by 2035, including 2.5 GW of offshore wind. A much more ambitious approach has been outlined in a new book by leading Danish energy expert Bent Sorensen, who suggests that Korea could get to 100% renewable energy, not just electricity, by 2050. He also develops 100% renewable scenarios for Japan and China, and tests all three for system viability in terms of their reliance on variable renewable sources – the main topic of this very timely book. They all make use of renewable hydrogen production and storage for grid balancing, while China, with a lot of land for wind (supplying 21,000 PJ), biomass (around 19,000 PJ) and solar farms (10,287 PJ), could, he says, export excess green energy – nearly 3,000 PJ annually. China’s renewable potential is clearly vast, but even in the more land-constrained Japan and Korea, Sorensen’s visionary text suggests 100% renewable is possible. Energy Intermittency: http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781466516069
On that basis, it’s a little odd perhaps to see nuclear still being considered – it looks like, for the future, SE Asia could focus entirely on renewables. In my next post I will look at the Middle East, where the emphasis remains on oil. But even there renewables are making their mark, as a way to reduce the growing domestic use of oil and release it for export.