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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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Japan Looks To Become A Leader In Asia’s Green Energy Push

  • Japan has announced big plans to ramp up its renewable energy and nuclear power capacity.
  • Japan’s nuclear sector has been a point of contention in the years following the Fukushima disaster, but the country is beginning to warm back up to its potential.
  • With its rapid innovations in public transport and growing interest in its offshore wind potential, Japan could emerge as a leader in Asia’s green energy push.

Japan has recently announced big plans to invest in renewables and bring back nuclear power - the first big move on nuclear since the Fukushima disaster. With international organisations putting pressure on governments to establish net-zero carbon emissions targets, Japan is responding by developing its renewable and nuclear energy sectors. With rapid innovations in cleaner public transport and international interest in the country’s offshore wind, it could soon lead Asia in green energy.  Despite much controversy, the EU moved to label nuclear power and natural gas ‘green’ earlier this year, deeming them vital to a transition away from coal and oil towards lower-carbon alternatives. Some question whether nuclear is sustainable, accusing the European Commission of greenwashing. However, as nuclear operations can be carbon-neutral many governments are welcoming it as an energy source as they strive for net-zero in the face of mounting global pressure.  

In Japan, nuclear power has been seen as highly controversial since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, which saw a meltdown at three of its reactors following an earthquake and a tsunami. But the tables may have turned, as Japanese newspaper Nikkei reported that 53 percent of people surveyed are in favour of restarting Japan’s decommissioned nuclear reactors, with 38 percent against it. This marks the first majority since the event.

Related: Why We Cannot Just “Unplug” Our Current Energy System

Due to the disaster, Japan’s nuclear power fell from contributing 13 percent of the country’s electricity needs in 2010 to just 1 percent in 2012, as the majority of its nuclear power plants were decommissioned. But natural disasters, such as earthquakes, and extreme temperatures have left Japan in a state of poor energy security at times as the energy mix has decreased. This month, a rise in the use of heating due to freezing temperatures saw the government introduce thermostat restrictions to avoid power outages. 

And following this recent energy concern, the Japanese government is once again looking to nuclear power to improve its security. Japan announced a target last year for renewable energy to contribute a third of the country’s power by 2030, but to achieve this it will have to restart many of its nuclear reactors, with 10 already resumed. The government hopes nuclear power will account for between 20 and 22 percent of electricity production by 2030. But with widespread opposition still, this will not be an easy task. 

The head of the Energy Economics and Society Research Institute in Tokyo, Go Matsuo, said of the need to diversify Japan’s energy mix “Many power plants in the country have been closing” and “There needs to be a fundamental shift in how to encourage investment in the area. Investment in large-scale power generation takes seven to eight years to decide, so that means there is an urgency,” he stated.

As a major emitter of CO2, Japan has long been looking at ways to decrease its greenhouse gasses by shifting to renewables in line with global targets. The country aims to become carbon-neutral by 2050, meaning it has a lot of work ahead of it as the sixth-biggest carbon emitter worldwide.  Related: OPEC+ To Use Rystad, WoodMac Data Instead Of IEA

Recent interest from international oil and gas majors will see Japan expand its wind energy sector. This month BP agreed on a strategic partnership with Japanese firm Marubeni that will focus on offshore wind operations as well as other low-carbon projects, such as hydrogen. BP purchased a 49 percent stake in a wind project, although more information about the development off the coast of Japan has not been released yet.

This move supports the government target of 10GW of offshore wind power by 2030. This figure is expected to increase further to between 30 and 45GW by 2040. The IEA stated of Japan’s aims, “It will also be important to develop different decarbonization scenarios and to prepare for the possibility that certain low-carbon technologies, such as nuclear, might not expand as quickly as hoped.”

But in Japan’s transport sector, low-carbon developments are already well underway. Tokyu Corp. announced this month that it will be running all services on solar power and other renewable sources from April. The company, which has 105km of rail lines running between Tokyo and the Kanagawa Prefecture, introduced hydropower and geothermal-powered trains in 2019. And as it expands, Tokyu hopes to reduce its carbon emissions by as much as 46.2 percent by 2030 and around net zero by 2050.

Similarly, Japan’s largest railway firm, East Japan Railway Co., announced plans to test its first hydrogen-powered train this month. The $35 million Hybari train is expected to have a range of 140km and achieve a top speed of 100km an hour. It hopes to commence commercial services in 2030.

Japan has long shied away from nuclear power following the devastating Fukushima disaster around a decade ago. But as the government looks to diversify the country’s energy mix as a means of boosting its long-term energy security and reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, nuclear projects may be back on the table. In addition, Japan will likely expand its renewable energy sector as international oil and gas majors show increasing interest in the industry.  

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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