By Paul Homewood
IN THE WAKE of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, enthusiasm for renewable energy in Japan swelled. Kan Naoto, the prime minister at the time, declared that the country would draw up a new energy strategy “from scratch” and “elevate” renewables. One of his government’s last acts before losing power was to pass a law to stimulate renewable energy. Dozens of small firms sprang up. Fukushima prefecture itself pledged to get all its power from renewable sources by 2040.
The hoped-for transformation, however, has been slow. Renewable generation has grown from 10% of the power supply in 2010 to 17% in 2018, almost half of which comes from old hydropower schemes. Most nuclear plants, which provided more than a quarter of the country’s power before the disaster, have been shut down, at least for the time being. But for the most part they have been replaced not by wind turbines and solar panels but by power stations that burn coal and natural gas. The current government wants nuclear plants to provide at least 20% of electricity by 2030. It also wants coal’s share of generation to grow, and has approved plans to build 22 new coal-fired plants over the next five years.
Coal currently accounts for 31% of Japan’s electricity. By contrast wind and solar only provide 8%.
It is true that Japan is also closing a lot of its older, more polluting coal plants. With the switch back to nuclear, we will likely see the share of coal reducing. Nevertheless the new coal power stations due over the next five years will ensure that Japan remains committed to a substantial contribution from coal power for decades to come.
The Economist naturally bemoans the slow transformation to renewables, but Japan knows full well that heavy reliance on wind and solar would be far too dangerous.