Japan Sets Example With Shift to Energy Sustainability

Japan is a very inspirational country. All over the world people love its healthy cuisine, its people’s sense of organization and citizenship as well as its cultural past and present. When the country was devastated by a tsunami and nuclear accident in March, the Japanese gave the world a lesson in stoicism and solidarity. And now it’s setting another example by focusing on sustainability through energy conservation and renewable energy as a response to the nuclear spill and the energy crisis that ensued.

Citizen support played an important role to promote a political turnaround in national energy policy. Public sentiment turned against nuclear, with protests taking place all over the country. The Prime Minister in power at the time of the accident, Naoto Kan, responded by passing a bill to promote renewables, with focus on solar, wind and geothermal. The law forces utilities to buy renewable power at fixed prices but allows them to pass on extra costs to consumers.

Japan’s new Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, confirmed in his first policy address to parliament in mid-September that the aim is to reduce dependence on nuclear power, promote energy efficiency and alternative energy.

He announced that the Japanese nuclear safety agency would be affiliated to the Ministry of the Environment to strengthen regulations on nuclear safety.

He also said that no new reactors would be built and existing reactors would be decommissioned by the end of their lifespan. Japan has 54 nuclear reactors but only 12 are currently operating.

Noda said he wants Japan to take a global leadership in terms of energy and present “a cutting edge model for energy conservation and renewable energies.”

At the same time the Japanese Prime Minister was presenting his policies on energy, Greenpeace International and the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies issued a report saying that Japan could phase out nuclear power by the end of next year.

The report estimates that 43% of the country’s electricity could come from renewable energy by 2020.

Energy efficiency is also key element of the vision presented. The report says Japan could reduce electricity demand by 1.7% a year on average between now and 2020. It also suggests increasing the use of liquid natural gas. Although not exactly as clean as wind and solar, it emits fewer greenhouse gases than coal and oil.

The shift would have a positive impact on employment creation, too. Jobs in the clean energy sector could triple by 2015 to 326,000, with 144,000 expected to be created in the solar PV industry.

But Japan is not only talking about alternative energy; the revolution is already under way. According to the UK Daily Telegraph, a 10 MW solar farm run by Kansai Electric Power Co started operating in Sakai City in the region of Osaka. The utility has plans for an 18 MW solar farm to be built in a partnership with Sharp.

Elsewhere, Kawasaki City near Tokyo became home to 38,000 solar panels last month. These can power 2,000 homes.

Besides solar farms, Japan wants small solar generation to be part of the solution as well. There are plans to make it compulsory for all new buildings and houses to be fitted with solar panels by 2030, which would help decentralize energy generation, a strategy that would be particularly useful in a seismically challenged region such as Japan.

The Japanese clean energy revolution may represent a turning point not only to Japan, as it’s likely to impact positively the global clean tech industry. It also shows that policy and political goodwill is crucial to foster the development and growth of renewable energy.

The World Future Council recently said that the Fukushima disaster in Japan illustrated how extreme weather and nuclear power are incompatible. As climate change makes weather patterns less predictable and extreme weather conditions become more regular, nuclear power facilities become an even more volatile element in a meteorological unstable world. Japan is right to move away from it.

Japan is also absolutely right to focus on energy conservation. It’s one of the quickest ways to reduce emissions caused by electricity usage and to reduce costs. This is a sustainable step that all of us can and should take, wherever we are in the world.

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