Japan’s Chuo Electric Power Co. is preparing to launch the country’s first new geothermal power project in 15 years at a time when Tokyo is grappling with energy alternatives to its deactivated nuclear reactors.
The new geothermal plant on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu will take advantage of the area’s natural hot springs and volcanic activity and will be one of the first to go online since 1999, boosting the nation’s geothermal power-generation potential which currently represents only 2%.
Chuo Electric has said it plans to open five more geothermal power-generation plants in the next five years.
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Japan, being one of the world’s most seismically active nations, is estimated that the country should be able to generate as much as 23 million kilowatts of energy.
Three years after the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s interest in geothermal power generation has increased.
Other technology giants such as Toshiba and Orix are also looking at plans for geothermal power generation plants across the country. Last November, the two companies set up a joint geothermal power company with the goal of launching their first project in Gifu prefecture in 2015.
According to some reports, there are more than 60 spots around the country that are currently being tapped as possible sites for plants.
However, opposition remains, and some in Japan are concerned that further development of geothermal energy could deplete the country’s hot springs.
Hirokazu Nunoyama, director of the Japan Spa Association, says hot spring baths are a cultural tradition and expresses concern over the potential dual sourcing of the island nation’s volcanic hot springs.
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In the wake of the Fukushima disaster and the deactivation of Japan’s nuclear reactors, the country is struggling to find alternative energy sources. Right now, the country is relying on expensive imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for almost all of its natural gas demand, consuming about 37% of global LNG in 2012.
Three years after Fukushima, Japan is still contemplating the role of nuclear power. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stated that nuclear reactors that pass inspections and deemed safe can return to operation, but there is as yet no clear timetable for this.
Abe has assured the public that they will meet the highest safety standards by building new flood walls and installing backup power at power plant sites. The safety measures and upgrades have cost an estimated $12.3 billion and counting.
By James Burgess of Oilprice.com