Time Magazine: How Japan’s move to Renewables can spark the economy
May 23, 2011
The ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear facility has pushed the massive Japanese economy on a path towards efficiency and renewable energy that could change the global power production equation. Time Magazine reports:
7-Eleven may seem like just another overly lit, electricity-burning chain store wasting this island nation’s precious energy resources. But in fact, it is among a host of forward-looking companies seeking to help set the pace for change in Japan’s energy policy. With more than 13,000 locations nationwide, the chain plans to spend over $123 million to switch to energy-efficient LED lighting at about 6,000 outlets in Tokyo, and will install solar panels on the roofs of 1,000 stores across the country over the next few months. The plan will not only save 125 kW a day per store, but also benefit manufacturers of LED lighting and solar-cell panels — a win-win for all.
Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant accident, the world’s second worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl, has left a gaping hole in — and perhaps a new opportunity for — Japan’s energy policy. At a press conference last week, Prime Minister Naoto Kan effectively scrapped Japan’s plan for increasing domestic electricity supply. “Under the current energy policy, by the year 2030, more than 50% of Japan’s electricity will come from nuclear power generation and 20% from renewable energy sources,” he said. “However, we now have to go back to the drawing board and conduct a fundamental review of the nation’s basic energy policy.” Renewable-energy experts agree that the ongoing nuclear crisis, while tragic, could be a remarkable opportunity to move away from the country’s focus on nuclear power development and imported fossil fuels toward solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and other natural domestic sources.
The situation, of course, might not be a “win-win” for the United States if Tea-Party know nothing-ism continues to dominate the energy debate here. The US has already slipped to number 17 in the world for new energy investment, compliments of the climate denial propoganda machine.
The fact is, with Japan making a decisive break from centralized, 19th and 20th century power sources, the world’s largest economies are now tilting markedly toward the all-too-obvious energy revolution of this century. Germany, the UK, Japan, and increasingly, China and India, are pouring resources into the sector, in hopes not only of revamping their domestic power systems, and becoming energy independent, but of leading, or at least not trailing, in the race to the economic future.
Time goes to describe how even the disaster struck no-man’s-land in Fukushima could become a winner in the new economy:
Geothermal, wind, biomass and small-scale hydropower projects all have potential in Japan, but for now, solar looks like the fastest way to add more power to the national grid. In the 1980s, Japan was the world’s top solar-power producer, with strong government policies in place to promote that, but it has since fallen behind on installing large-scale solar projects. Gaetan Borgers, who leads the global solar business for Dow Corning Toray in Tokyo, says the March 11 disaster has generated new solutions for solar-power installation in Japan’s relatively small geographic areas. “The [irradiated] agricultural land near the Fukushima power plant is no longer usable, so why don’t we convert that into solar plants?” he asks. He cites a convincing calculation from Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology: “Rice produced on one hectare of land yields a yearly revenue of 1.58 million yen, while a solar plant on the same surface would generate a revenue of 7.5 million yen.” With changes in Japan’s land-use law, struggling agricultural farmers could become profitable solar farmers.
All this just brings home how desperately behind the United States is in adopting a national Renewable Portfolio Standard, or Feed-In Tariff, the state-of-the-art development tool that has helped Germany not only vault to the head of the pack in solar and wind development, but stave off the worst effects of the global economic crisis.
We’ll see if this competition is enough to motivate the US to move into the 21st century, or whether we’ll continue with the tea party congress back to the era of coal and steam.