One of the fundamental problems with Japan’s energy policy, dating back to even before the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, is a consistent failure to understand the importance of renewable energy and expand its deployment. Japan currently generates only 20% of its electricity from renewables, compared to over 40% in Germany, a similarly advanced and industrialized country, and in the U.K., an island nation like Japan. This discrepancy is not due to any differences in natural conditions between Japan and the other two countries. Around 20 years ago, in 2000, Japan managed to supply 10% of its electricity with hydroelectric power, thanks to its abundant water resources. At the same time, Germany and the U.K. could only generate 6.9% and 3.4%, respectively, of their electric power using renewables. Thus, in just over 20 years, both Germany and the U.K. were able to increase their renewable energy share by close to 40 percentage points. Although Japan began to expand its renewables share after the earthquake, when it introduced a feed-in-tariff (FIT) scheme, it has only grown its share by 10 percentage points or so in 20 years.
Materials presented by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and other parties at the GX Implementation Council explain this relative slowness by claiming that Japan lacks the geographical conditions to expand its renewable energy further, but this is nothing more than an excuse to cover up policy error. Why is the Japanese government not trying to adopt mandatory solar PV rooftop installation, as regional and city governments in the EU and the U.S.A. are doing? Japan’s policy on offshore wind power also lags that of Europe, North America, China, and Taiwan, and its goals for offshore wind are far too unambitious. The U.K. is aiming to produce 50 GW of offshore wind power by 2030—five times more than the 10 GW expected in project formation in Japan. Since Japan generates three times more electric power than the U.K., it should be aiming to generate 150 GW of offshore wind power if it were equally ambitious. An often-heard justification is that the coastal waters around the U.K. are shallow, unlike the deep waters around Japan, but there are still many areas of Japan where fixed-bottom wind turbines can be used. So, this is not the reason that Japan has been slow to harness offshore wind. What the country should really be doing is setting its sights high, on the goal of becoming a world leader in the development of floating offshore wind power generators, a field that is ripe with abundant potential.
We believe that the Kishida administration is unable to appreciate how serious this delay in Japan’s renewable energy development is, both for ensuring stable national energy supplies and the international competitiveness of Japanese companies. A look at the 2030 targets of European countries shows that Portugal, Austria, and Denmark are aiming at 100% renewable energy, while the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Ireland, and Greece have set aggressive targets of 70% or higher. Although the U.S.A. has not specified an official target, the U.S. Department of Energy has reported that renewables will account for 81% of national requirements by 2035.
Even if Japan meets its current 2030 target, it will still be depending heavily on fossil fuels for its electric power, which means that the country will suffer high energy costs and continue to generate high CO2 emissions from its electric power industry. Products made in Japan will therefore be rated lower in environmental performance than those of Western competitors. The GX Basic Policy is therefore misguided, not only in terms of climate change measures, but also as economic policy and growth strategy.
In 2023, Renewable Energy Institute will continue its efforts to urgently bring Japan’s national energy policy, which is currently leading Japan in the wrong direction, back on track, by collaborating with companies that promote the development of renewable energy with additionality through corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs), regional and local governments that promote the adoption of pioneering schemes, local utilities throughout Japan that develop renewable energy projects in harmony with local communities, and numerous other stakeholders.
We look forward to your continued interest and support for the initiatives of Renewable Energy Institute in the year ahead.