New Year’s Column 100% Renewable Energy for Japan’s Path to Decarbonization

Teruyuki Ohno, Executive Director, Renewable Energy Institute

7 January 2021

in Japanese

With the future of Japan’s energy policy being questioned, the year 2021 will be very important. In March, we will be ten years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a disaster that could have devastated all of eastern Japan. In November, the COP26 meeting will be held to consider strategies for 2030 and 2050 designed to avert the impending climate crisis.
Renewable Energy Institute has made a series of policy proposals to clearly define a path for Japan to achieve a decarbonized society. In August of last year, we put forth “a sustainable energy mix for 2030” that includes a target of more than 45% renewable electricity. And, toward the end of the year, we showed how this amount of renewable energy could be integrated into the power grid while maintaining supply stability by presenting supply-and-demand simulations.
In December as well, the Institute released an interim report on “A 2050 Renewable-based Decarbonization Pathway for Japan.” If Japan’s rich potential for renewable energy can be tapped, it is certainly possible for the country to end its reliance on nuclear and thermal power and supply its electricity from 100% renewable sources. This can be done by strengthening inter-regional power grids and utilizing electricity storage technology and demand management.
The Japanese government declared its commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050 at the end of October followed by its ”green growth” strategy at the end of last year. The government’s new policy includes progressive initiatives such as nationwide non-firm grid connection for renewable energy sources and an offshore wind power target of 45 GW by 2040. But it also has many weak points: the country’s long-term adherence to coal-fired thermal and nuclear power has distorted the direction of Japan’s policy transformation.
A typical example is setting a 2050 target for renewable electricity of just 50-60% while expecting to supply 30-40% with nuclear power and thermal plants equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS). Even making the extreme assumption that all existing nuclear reactors will be operating for 60 years, they will only be able to supply 5% of the electricity that will be needed in 2060. Thermal power with CCS has been attempted around the world for the past 20 or more years, but the only functioning facility anywhere in the world right now is a small 120 MW thermal plant in Canada. It is not even clear where in Japan the large amounts of captured carbon dioxide could be stored.
For Japanese companies to be business leaders globally in the age of decarbonization, they will need hydrogen fuel made from large amounts of inexpensive carbon-free electricity; this is particularly true of the auto and steel industries. Relying on thermal power equipped with CCS, which has zero track record, and small-scale nuclear power, whose technology is still to be developed going forward, is, to put it mildly, a high-risk strategy.
At the same time, many local governments have set targets for decarbonization by 2050 out in front of the central government, and ambitious companies have taken part in RE100, Science Based Targets (SBT) and other initiatives. It is particularly noteworthy that last year a good number of prefectures and cities designated by government ordinance in Renewable Energy Councils and companies participating in RE100 and RE-Users proposed raising Japan’s 2030 target for renewable energy to 40% or higher, and equivalent proposals were made by the National Governors’ Association and Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives). Raising the current target of 22-24% to around double that figure is a proposal shared currently by many companies and local governments.
This momentum will certainly push the government toward developing a sounder strategy for Japan’s decarbonization. Renewable Energy Institute will continue this year to make necessary policy recommendations and promote them jointly with companies and local governments in order to help avert the climate crisis and transition to a safe energy system that never again forces people to endure the misery of a nuclear disaster. Thank you for your continuing cooperation and support.

External Links

  • JCI 気候変動イニシアティブ
  • 自然エネルギー協議会
  • 指定都市 自然エネルギー協議会
  • irelp
  • 全球能源互联网发展合作组织

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