The melting of reactor fuel at Fukushima Daiichi showed the economic and societal risks of nuclear power. Since 2011 renewable energy (RE) has been on the front of the stage as Japan’s low carbon electricity. RE stagnation being out of question, higher ambition is now the decision to make.
The past decade witnessed major changes in Japan’s power sector, especially with the collapse of nuclear power. Despite enormous investments in the nuclear power plants by the electric power companies, the share in the country’s gross electricity generation dramatically decreased from 25% in fiscal year (FY – from April 1st to March 31st) 2010 to 6% only in FY 2019. In the same period the share of RE nearly doubled from 10% to 19%, largely thanks to the opening up of the electricity market and introduction of a feed-in tariff scheme in 2012.
Entering a new decade, in the first six months of the calendar year 2020, nuclear electricity generation decreased because of closures at four reactors due to various issues.a1 In the same period, RE continued to increase, and their share in net electricity generation reached a remarkable 23%.
Japan Net Electricity Generation Mix 2020 January-June (%)
This 23% share is right in the middle of Japan’s FY 2030 RE target of 22-24%, decided in 2015 and to be reached after 15 years, in 2030. That this target was met after only 5 years, 10 years in advance, illustrates that the potential of renewable energy is underestimated.
Like in the rest of the world renewable electricity has proved it is better poised than nuclear power to deliver the much needed low carbon electricity. Renewable electricity can expand faster and at lower cost. It is time for Japan to increase the 2030 RE target and finally recognize that nuclear power will not be central to its decarbonization strategy.
Hitachi’s very recent withdrawal from the Wylfa nuclear project in the United Kingdom despite generous subsidies provides more evidence that nuclear power is a dead end. Hitachi has learned from Toshiba’s US bankruptcy after the failure in construction of the Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina. Abandoning Wylfa and instead acquiring ABB’s power grids business illustrate their understanding of global developments.2
Finally, it has been reported that Japan’s freshly elected new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga aims at increasing the country’s 2030 RE target, maybe to at least 30%.3 Renewable Energy Institute can only praise higher ambitions and invite the new government to go even further by targeting at least 45% RE as supported in the organization’s new Proposal for 2030 Energy Mix in Japan.