Renewables Update

Three Truths the Government Won’t Tell You about the Strategic Energy Plan of Japan

20 March 2014 Teruyuki Ohno, Executive Director, Japan Renewable Energy Foundation

Last week Japan Renewable Energy Foundation made public our view of the government’s draft Strategic Energy Plan (“Basic Energy Plan”) of Japan. We noted that in the government draft, both nuclear energy and coal-fired thermal power are positioned as “important base-load energy sources,” despite the experience of the catastrophic Fukushima nuclear power plant accident and the fact that the reality of the climate change crisis is made increasingly clear in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. The government draft is full of references to the importance of nuclear and coal-fired power.

What I would like to point out here are matters that are not mentioned in the government draft even though they need to be specified.

The kinds of policies to be set forth in the Strategic Plan depend on the awareness one has of the current energy situation confronting Japan. At the beginning of this draft plan the government sets out its understanding of the situation in the opening chapter, “Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident and issues manifesting themselves before and after that accident.” The logical structure is correct. The problem is with the contents: the government draft devotes considerable space to destabilization in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and to the shale gas revolution in North America. Bringing these topics up per se is not a problem because it is true that the situation in the Middle East emerging out of the Arab Spring movements, as well as the shale gas revolution, represent important changes relating to energy that have occurred during this time. The problem is that there is no mention whatsoever of three big changes in the energy field that are happening in the world.

The first missing truth is that after the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, many countries have made policy shifts away from nuclear energy. In Europe, Germany decided in 2011 to shut down all its nuclear power plants by 2022; Belgium has decided to phase out nuclear energy starting in 2015; and both Switzerland and Italy have decided by national referendum to abolish nuclear energy. The United States during 2013 decided to shut down five operating nuclear reactors. Even though this is the first Strategic Energy Plan to be formulated since the Fukushima accident, the government draft says not a word about these trends. The only phrase it uses to depict global trends in nuclear energy is the “global expansion of nuclear power, especially in emerging nations.”

The second missing truth regards coal-fired power generation. Last September the US government unveiled a proposed regulation that would effectively prevent further construction of coal-fired plants, and adopted the policy of not funding coal-fired power generation in developing nations. Similar policies have also been announced by the world’s leading financial institutions, including the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the World Bank, European Investment Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Despite such circumstances, the government draft disregards these global trends and instead states the policy of exporting coal-fired power generation overseas.

The third truth missing from the government draft is the rapid spread of renewable energy use throughout the world. Not a word is included in the government draft about how renewable energy in Germany and other European countries is becoming a core power source, meeting 20 to 40 percent of electric power consumption, or about how the price of renewable energy continues to drop. In the opening chapter summarizing the current energy situation, the government draft refers to renewable energy only in the context of how, with the introduction of a feed-in tariff system, renewable energy has become a factor driving up electricity prices.

For the Japanese government, are the worldwide moves away from nuclear energy, the changes in policies supporting coal-fired generation, and even the spread of renewable energy “inconvenient truths” that are too difficult to introduce to the public?

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