The Direction of Japan’s Post-Fukushima Energy Policy: Q&A

(Bloomberg) — A Q&A on Japan’s energy policy since the
Fukushima nuclear disaster and where it’s going after a nuclear
reactor restarted Aug. 11 on the southern island of Kyushu.

Has clean energy gained ground?

Renewables — not including hydropower — provided 3.2
percent of Japan’s electricity in the year ended in March,
compared with 1.6 percent three years ago when the country
started an incentive program. Solar has been the biggest winner.
But the boom has congested the grid in some regions, and
utilities have been pushing back. One solution would be pushing
for more wind power, but that has drawbacks. Wind farms can be
subject to lengthy environmental assessments, and like solar,
the availability of suitable locations for wind turbines can be
a challenge.

What do policymakers want?

A report from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
assessing Japan’s energy supply and demand anticipates fossil
fuels will supply 56 percent of electricity by 2030, while
nuclear will account for about a fifth. “The mix is pretty much
in line with what the power utilities and big corporations have
been insisting on such as the revival of nuclear, and priority
given to cost over carbon dioxide emissions,” said Hiroshi
Takahashi, a professor of energy policy at Tsuru University in
the prefecture of Yamanashi.

What about nuclear energy’s future?

Policymakers are calling for nuclear, which used to provide
more than a quarter of Japan’s electricity before the Fukushima
accident, to account for as much as 22 percent by 2030. Myriad
challenges may limit the technology to 8.9 percent of the mix,
Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in June. It identified hurdles
including cost and the regulatory steps needed to extend the
life of operating reactors beyond the typical 40 years.

What are the risks?

Japan risks falling behind other economies in developing
new forms of energy because its support for nuclear power
threatens to crowd out a bigger contribution from renewables.
Germany, for example, is seeking to get 80 percent of its power
from sources such as wind and solar by 2050. South Africa and
Brazil are among the developing nations successfully stimulating
renewables. Giving renewables short shrift would leave Japan
dependent on volatile prices for fossil fuels. “We are entering
a world where 40 percent or 50 percent of power from renewables
will be a standard, prompting developments in technologies such
as energy management, storage and efficiency,” said Hikaru
Hiranuma, a research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, a private
research institute in Tokyo.

What’s coming next?

The policy may face review as early as next year for
regular updates, said Takahashi of Tsuru University. For the
next round of reviews, the government probably will consider
issues such as whether to add new nuclear capacity and the
replacement of older units, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Chisaki Watanabe in Tokyo at
cwatanabe5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Reed Landberg at
landberg@bloomberg.net
Iain Wilson

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