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India and Japan press ahead – South Korea too

By Dave Elliott

Although renewables are still nowhere near as advanced in India as in China (see my last post), where they are now at over 550 GW including hydro, India had got to 91 GW by the end of 2016, and is expanding fast, with 29 GW of wind capacity in place. It’s the same in Japan, although, with the post-Fukushima nuclear mess still often dominating the news, less is heard about that. But by the end of 2016 it had 72 GW of renewables, including 45 GW of PV solar. And the prospects for growth of renewable capacity are good in both countries.

The expansion plans in India are very ambitious. The national solar mission target is 100 GW by 2022 and the national 2022 target for wind is 60 GW. Looking further ahead, the aim is to have 250 GW of solar and 100 GW of wind by 2030. And looking even further ahead WWF, with TERI, have mapped out a 90% renewable energy scenario for 2050.

That is very speculative, but certainly PV solar is doing well, growing by 80% in 2015/16, much of it in Tamil Nadu. The new 648 MW solar project in Kamuthi, the largest in the world so far, takes the national total to around 10 GW overall. But it is not all large scale. Local mini-grids linking up smaller projects are also being seen as part of the way ahead.

However, there are some problems. Tragically, last year there were reports that a 0.5 GW PV project, one of the other 32 large solar projects planned, was in financial trouble. And with wind power capacity expanding rapidly, it is facing over-supply and curtailment problems. Nevertheless, wind has over-taken nuclear output in India.

However, electricity demand is forecast to grow 3.8 times between 2016 and 2040. And, in addition to continued support for nuclear, as in China, coal still dominates overall, although, as in China, attempts are being made to cut back. 16 GW of new coal plant has just been halted in India.

Japan has similar problems with coal. A report from IEEFA, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, ‘Japan: Greater Energy Security Through Renewables: Electricity Transformation in a Post-Nuclear Economy’, documents how government policies adopted after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 have favoured replacement of nuclear base-load with fossil fuel base-load, a strategy that it says ‘has proven costly and resulted in lost opportunities in the development of increasingly available renewable energy’. But it says that, assuming a much-needed policy push to increase solar and offshore wind capacity, and factoring in the country’s probable electricity demand reduction, Japan’s total renewable energy share could double to 35% of generation by 2030.

That’s an advance on the official plan (22-24% by 2030) but less than in some NGO scenarios, some of which look to near 100% by 2050. However, Japan started late with  renewables: it was only after Fukushima that they were looked at seriously and even now there is still arguably less urgency than there should be. The Government still seems to be focused on restarting nuclear plants. Nevertheless, following Fukushima, with all the nuclear plants offline, Japan did do remarkably well with upgrading its energy efficiency: that was seen as the fastest way to ensure the lights stayed on while new supplies were developed.  Its emergency energy-saving Setsuden programme had great success in reducing electricity usage by changing consumer behaviour and new smart technology offers even more saving.

IEEFA says energy productivity gains will drive down electricity demand from 1,140 TWh in 2010 to 868 TWh in 2030: ‘With population decline limiting economic growth and Japan’s world-leading energy efficiency driving further energy productivity gains, electricity demand is set to decrease until at least 2030, as it has done for the past six years’.  

It then says that, on the supply side:

*As Japan reconfigures its electricity industry, solar PV can account for 12% of its electricity-generation mix by 2030, up from 4% at present (from 45 GW). It notes that ‘Japan was the second largest installer globally of solar PV from 2013-2015, but new policy support by the Japanese government will be required to perpetuate solar growth. A recent move towards reverse auctions for large-scale solar suggests Japan can realize significant further solar cost reductions, like those currently being achieved around the world. A policy focus on rooftop solar and ongoing market reforms will expand Japan’s renewables footprint, while large pumped hydro storage capacity and greater regional grid connectivity will help integrate increased solar PV into the still largely regional grids’.

*Japanese offshore wind-power resources have been largely overlooked but have tremendous potential, and can viably contribute to base-load power demand. It notes that ‘Japan has one of the best manufacturing industries in the world – perhaps the best – and one that is becoming more and more suited to wind-turbine production. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, for instance, is currently researching and developing offshore wind technology as well as supplying offshore turbines via its joint venture with MHI Vestas Offshore Wind. Offshore wind’s inherent absence of land constraint issues works in its favour, as do its utilization rates of 45 to 50%, an indication that it can contribute to baseload power’. IEEFA sees 10 GW of offshore wind being in place in Japan by 2030: it has 3.1 GW so far, nearly all on shore.

IEEFA also sees hydro and biomass playing a role (it has 26 GW of pumped storage), but acknowledges that it all depends on the Japanese government delivering on its COP21 pledge. It will require a major lowering of regulatory and grid barriers to renewable energy projects.

IEEFA sees only a quarter of Japan’s 40 GW of currently offline nuclear power capacity coming back into service by 2030: ‘the industry will face strong head winds, as financially distressed operators struggle to achieve new safety standards before reactors reach their retirement dates’. And it says that, with demand falling, Japan will very likely scale back plans to construct 45 new coal-fired power plants:Whether the proposed coal fleet expansion would add overall capacity or merely replace existing thermal capacity is unclear anyway, and momentum for the initiative is fading. Japan’s major electricity power companies (EPCOs) have recently started to reassess their coal-fired generation plans’. 

* Like Japan, South Korea has been trying to export its nuclear technology, but Fukushima and a national nuclear safety fraud scandal undermined support. After the recent election, its new nuclear programme has been halted, and its old plants are to be phased out over time, along with coal use, with a renewables target of 20% by 2030 set. In the meantime LNG use will rise. It already has a well developed renewables programme, including some impressive tidal energy projects and plans for 2.5 GW of offshore wind, and it has the potential to expand renewables significantly.

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