Japan energy: the sun also rises
September 11, 2013 4:22 AM   Subscribe

Abe's Nuclear Energy Policy and Japan's Future: "Japan has nearly doubled spending on solar power projects to $20 bn and ramped up renewable energy capacity equivalent to six nuclear reactors, pointing the way to a sustainable and cheaper alternative to nuclear energy."

-Feed-in tariffs ready to make Japan world No. 2 solar market after China
-Japan Domestic Solar Shipments Leap by Most in at Least 30 Years
-Japan Set to Overtake Germany as World's Largest Solar Market
-Japan Approves 19GW of Commercial Solar in 2012 After Incentives
-Grid Congestion for Renewable Energy May Expand to South Japan
-Japan Fuel Cell Market Ripe After Fukushima, Bloom Energy Says

note: "when the last active reactor at the Ohi plant shuts down for scheduled maintenance on Sept. 15, Japan will be without nuclear power"

Japan's nuclear reactors predicted to restart by July 2014: "With that forecast, if Japan restarts 16 reactors by March 2015, annual fossil fuel imports would have increased by 7 trillion yen by that period, as compared to March 2011. They are also predicting that Japan will reach record highs in importing liquefied natural gas (LNG), with an increase of 1.7 percent to 88.3 million tons from March 2012 to March 2014, and another 1.5 percent to 89.7 million tons from March 2014 to March 2015. At present, Japan is already the third largest importer of LNG globally."

some more background:
Atomic plants provided about 30 per cent of Japan's electricity before Fukushima, and the near-total shutdown – only two reactors have permission to operate – has pushed up the cost of energy.

On Tuesday [13/8/6], three regional utilities won approval from the government to raise residential electricity charges by as much as 9 per cent, the first significant increase in 30 years. They will follow utilities in Tokyo, Osaka and other big urban centres that have implemented increases of 8 to 9 per cent for households and twice that for commercial customers.

Utilities are spending an estimated Y3tn a year for extra imported oil and natural gas, an expense that has led to huge losses and helped to drag Japan's national trade balance into deficit.

The public remains ambivalent. In surveys, a little more than half of respondents say they want the nuclear industry shut down permanently. Yet the preference was not strong enough in elections last December to stop voters picking Mr Abe, whose pro-nuclear stance is connected to a pledge to boost economic growth.
also btw...

Nissan vows self-driving cars by 2020: "Nissan's autonomous driving technology is an extension of what it calls 'Safety Shield', its various systems that monitor a 360-degree view around a vehicle, gives warnings to the driver and takes action if the driver does has not react."

Chinese Zombies Emerging After Years of Solar Subsidies: "Were they to run at full speed, China's factories could produce 49 gigawatts of solar panels a year, 10 times more than in 2008 and 61 percent more than installed globally last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A gigawatt is about as much as what a new nuclear reactor can supply."
posted by kliuless (32 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Meanwhile, in Australia, we don't need no stinking free power from the Sun.

It's nice to see Japan moving away from nuclear (in as much as it is), or at least Gen 3 (I'm no fan of Gen 4, but, hey, Japan needs power).

-Feed-in tariffs ready to make Japan world No. 2 solar market after China

I will start the clock on how soon it is before Tepco et all suddenly come out with a justification for why power prices need to rise because of solar.
posted by Mezentian at 5:10 AM on September 11, 2013


If all but two of the links in this post are marked as already visited--you might have a job doing communications for a solar power company.

Also, the best analyses of the Japanese energy market are invariably in Nikkei News who, unfortunately charge $30 a month for their online publication. It's worth it though.
posted by 256 at 5:48 AM on September 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Australia, we don't need no stinking free power from the Sun.

And yet I have bags of it. In Australia.

Congrats on putting together a forward-looking policy package, o Japanese ones. Enough of this and the evidence will become sufficiently compelling that others will adopt this eminently sensible strategy.
posted by Wolof at 5:50 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, funny how it can't be done until it has to be done....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:06 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes, funny how it can't be done until it has to be done....

9% increases in power bills probably seems insignificant to people in America. In a lot of the rest of the world a 9% increase is close to back breaking. When I moved to England I was 'gobsmacked' that it cost more to heat my home in the winter than it did in Canada even though it never even got really cold for more than a couple of days at a time and I only heated one room in the house.
posted by srboisvert at 6:25 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


GenjiandProust: "Yes, funny how it can't be done until it has to be done..."

It's hard to wedge yourself into a space that's already taken. TEPCO have created a gap in the Japanese energy market that the solar guys have taken advantage of.

As Krugman put it in a slightly different, but applicable context: Responding to climate change with the vigor that the threat deserves would not, contrary to legend, be devastating for the economy as a whole. But it would shuffle the economic deck, hurting some powerful vested interests even as it created new economic opportunities. And the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t.
posted by Jakey at 6:25 AM on September 11, 2013 [18 favorites]


Congrats on putting together a forward-looking policy package, o Japanese ones. Enough of this and the evidence will become sufficiently compelling that others will adopt this eminently sensible strategy.

A 9% increase in domestic rates and up to twice that for business rates? A ballooning trade deficit? You're right, that is compelling!
posted by atrazine at 7:04 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm Australian. If my electricity bills don't go up 20% a year, I wonder what I am doing wrong.
posted by Wolof at 7:07 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


They are also predicting that Japan will reach record highs in importing liquefied natural gas (LNG)

In the midst of a long economic downturn, Japan still has to consume more natural gas than ever before to generate enough electricity.

This is the catch.
posted by samofidelis at 7:30 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the sun bathed islands of Turks and Caicos down in the Caribbean, we pay a heart-rending 48 cents per kilowatt hour, legally we can't even supplement our homes with solar power, we have only the choice of going totally off grid, or getting the power from the local government granted monopoly, which burns diesel.

I dream of sensible energy policies.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:46 AM on September 11, 2013


I don't understand why the big oil companies don't at least put a bit of money into alternatives if they see them coming on the horizon. Instead of fighting it, welcome it and push towards capturing the market, but I suppose they have to squeeze every last drop of money from their dying technology, just like they do with the product they sell, before giving up the ghost to the new breed.
posted by symbioid at 7:47 AM on September 11, 2013


legally we can't even supplement our homes with solar power

Wait, what? Is it just that net-metering isn't allowed, or is it worse than that?
posted by aramaic at 7:59 AM on September 11, 2013


I don't understand why the big oil companies don't at least put a bit of money into alternatives if they see them coming on the horizon.

Because that would be planning ahead past the next couple of quarters, and modern business culture does not support thinking about anything more than a couple of years out. Record profits this quarter and the next quarter, or you're gone and we'll find somebody else. In addition to the cost of deploying solar/wind, which might not prove profitable until it's fully deployed and operational, it might reduce demand for the core product (petroleum) and if you're feeling like being fired you can feel free to walk into a room of oil executives and tell them that the best thing to do is to reduce demand for their core product.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:11 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


aramaic: "Wait, what? Is it just that net-metering isn't allowed, or is it worse than that?"

The latter-- you're not allowed to compete with them, even on a personal level. For example, if you had a generator/solar/wind system that could power your home for a short-term basis, say 2 hours a day. You're not allowed to turn it on, except in the case of when their grid goes down (say while recovering after a hurricane).
posted by Static Vagabond at 8:25 AM on September 11, 2013


The role of renewable sources in the global power mix continues to increase. On a percentage basis, renewables continue to be the fastest-growing power source. As global renewable electricity generation expandsin absolute terms, it is expected to surpass that from natural gas and double that from nuclear power by 2016, becoming the second most important global electricity source, after coal. Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018, up from 20% in 2011 and 19% in 2006. Driven by fast-growing generation from wind and solar photovoltaics (PV), the share of non-hydro renewable power is seen doubling, to 8% of gross generation in 2018, up from 4% in 2011 and 2% in 2006. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), non-hydro renewable power rises to 11% of OECD gross generation in 2018, up from 7% in 2012 and 3% in 2006.--Renewable Energy Medium-Term Market Report 2013 / International Energy Agency (pdf)
posted by No Robots at 8:41 AM on September 11, 2013


In the midst of a long economic downturn,

Just because we're measuring against the 1989 stock market as a baseline does not necessarily mean Japan is in an "economic downturn." It's a myth.

However, because something like 50 of 52 reactors are shut down, Japan has a very serious problem. Increasing rates for businesses by 20% is not a solution.

While I have my doubts about the sustainability of the FIT and solar power, at least Japan is taking a chance. It's great.

But at the end of the day there are going to be more LNG plants.

The silver lining is that before 9/11, Japanese per capita C02 emissions were half that of the US. Half!!!
posted by KokuRyu at 8:43 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why the big oil companies don't at least put a bit of money into alternatives

Isn't power generation largely about coal? So it's non-power usage we're talking about.

I would guess that they don't believe that there will be any significant reduction in demand for oil, so why should they shift investment into a risky sector largely dependent on government intervention?
posted by alasdair at 9:02 AM on September 11, 2013


risky sector largely dependent on government intervention?

You mean like the oil business?
posted by No Robots at 9:04 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


you're not allowed to compete with them, even on a personal level.

That's interesting Static Vagabond. Do you know if they allow for solar capture for non electrical purposes? IE: is it permitted to heat water for domestic using solar capture?
posted by Mitheral at 9:06 AM on September 11, 2013


You mean like the oil business?

Very fair point! But the underlying demand for oil does not depend on government intervention, in the way that the demand for renewables has done (historically). You might have to deal with lots of government intervention in the process of extracting and selling oil, but demand is non-governmental.
posted by alasdair at 9:09 AM on September 11, 2013


but demand is non-governmental.

There is a relationship between demand and government policy. More and more people want to reduce overall demand for nuclear and fossil fuels. This hostility is becoming a factor in government policy making. As government policy results in increased renewable sources, demand for non-renewable sources falls. Is the government leading demand for renewables, or is it responding to pressure? Does it matter?
posted by No Robots at 9:18 AM on September 11, 2013


Mitheral: "Do you know if they allow for solar capture for non electrical purposes? IE: is it permitted to heat water for domestic using solar capture?"

Yep, you can install a solar water heater's, I've seen a few places with them-- I guess as long as you're not producing electricity, you're fine.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:19 AM on September 11, 2013


Static Vagabond, at 48 cents/kWh surely it must be economically feasible to go totally off grid? Even with the cost of maintaining a battery bank and all? I don't use a whole pile of electricity myself but I know if I was paying 48 cents instead of 7 cents I'd be very motivated to get rid of the grid tie. Right now I use about $60 a month in electricity so it's questionable payback, but if I was paying $420 for that same usage a solar array would pay for itself in a couple of years. Or are there crazy import duties and restrictions on solar panels as well in another protectionist nod?
posted by barc0001 at 10:24 AM on September 11, 2013


barc0001: "Static Vagabond, at 48 cents/kWh surely it must be economically feasible to go totally off grid? Even with the cost of maintaining a battery bank and all?"

There's various reasons on my side, first I'm hoping if I just hold out, then in a year or three, the law might be changed to allow some sort of offset energy, so I could for instance put up ten panels, which could be my low-water mark for energy usage and combine that with the grid energy, so I'm absolutely maximizing the solar panel usage while the sun is out. In those terms payback would be 2-4 years, but that's with an offset method-- if you built you panel array for your peak usage at noon at the height of summer, then you're wasting a lot of investment for the rest of the year. So a little array first, then once that's paid for itself, you could add another couple to the array each year.

Going totally off-grid is expensive when heavy air conditioning is a essential need (the heat index today is 103F, I would just move back to the UK if I had to give up A/C), the battery banks are expensive, much more then the cost of the solar.
Solar panels are duty-free, which is great, but because it's a non-industry here, you'd likely need to fly in someone (a few people?) with the knowledge to install it correctly-- and therefore what do you do about maintenance? Case in point, we have a little owners club for our particular make of cars, and fly someone down twice a year to do a service and checkup on them.

Then the insurance issue-- we live in a prime hurricane zone, so getting them insured, and adjusting your disaster insurance (e.g. would panels make a roof more likely to be ripped off?) could be interesting. When (and I feel it is a when, not an if) I lose my roof at one of the next category 5 storms, I'd need to make sure the insurance company couldn't wriggle out of the claim, and I certainly don't have the knowledge to address that myself if I was dealing with them.

I guess it essentially boils down to not wanting to be the first to try it out-- we need a developer/entrepreneur to build a solar offset/off-grid, modern development and learn the various pitfalls for our particular environment, deal with the government and the insurance companies. Then we can jump on their good work. I think that would be kick-started naturally by the government and power company coming to an agreement where customers would be allowed to install solar panels to offset their grid energy, that would lead to new on-island businesses that could handle it for you. At present it's an all or nothing approach, all we need is a 'getting your toes wet' option :)

If I was made the supreme benevolent ruler, I'd do a big solar and wind farm and work towards turning the entire island carbon neutral-- I'd think that'd be amazing marketing for tourism and the future of the island.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:12 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


that'd be amazing marketing for tourism and the future of the island

same for japan! (and the world ;)

re: "armies of lobbyists," keep in mind from the fpp that japan's solar surge is occurring despite abe/nomics since he's apparently in the pocket of the nuclear industry...
"the most significant obstacle to a green agenda is the shooter himself. Abe is far more keen... to hawk nuclear reactors in his frantic overseas salesman efforts and is generally uninterested in talking about Japan's burgeoning green growth. So scarcely a word passed Abe's lips about the multiple pages of green content of the third arrow as well as the extensive deployment of core enabling technologies (such as smart grids) supported by the first two arrows. Abe simply lacks a green vocabulary, even though he is surrounded by green-growth advocacy in his own party."

[...]

The institutions of Japan's nuclear village (principally the utilities, bureaucracy and Diet) enjoy considerable advantages in terms of energy policymaking and have enormous investments at stake. The nuclear village has openly lobbied the government and actively promoted its case in the media while also working the corridors of power and backrooms where energy policy is decided. Here the nuclear village enjoys tremendous advantages that explain why it has prevailed over public opinion concerning national energy policy. Its relatively successful damage control is an object lesson in power politics.
but maybe give some credit to his wife? "Abe faces further opposition to his nuclear energy plans on the domestic front as his wife also opposes nuclear exports. She said, 'It will be better to use part of the money spent on nuclear plants for the development of new energy and promote the sale of Japanese-born clean energy overseas.' "
posted by kliuless at 3:14 PM on September 11, 2013


England ... it cost more to heat my home in the winter than it did in Canada ...

I bet those ancient English houses are from a time when they insulated with peat moss. Just like their govt.
posted by Twang at 11:01 PM on September 11, 2013


I don't understand why the big oil companies don't at least put a bit of money into alternatives i

They do. Yes, they may have killed the electric car, but they are keen on being energy companies into the post-Carbon era.

Isn't power generation largely about coal?

Largely, because it is cheap. Substitution of gas is great (leaving aside cost and fraccing issues), and the Japanese have a brilliant solution to that (where is a downside, potentially)
posted by Mezentian at 6:54 AM on September 12, 2013


keep in mind from the fpp that japan's solar surge is occurring despite abe/nomics since he's apparently in the pocket of the nuclear industry...

I don't even know what this is supposed to mean. Switching from nuclear to solar (or from coal to solar) is a structural change. Obviously there are a lot of vested interests in the nuclear industry, but we're talking about a major, strategic piece of Japan's infrastructure.

It's not just a special-interest group, and I can't think of any politician who can easily turn away from nuclear. Kan tried to, and he failed.

You have this gigantic and intrinsic piece of infrastructure that is enormously costly to replace. Does thinking this make one "in the pocket of the nuclear industry"?

FWIW, the "nuclear industry" was hobbled after 3/11. Tepco, a gigantic company, is out of cash, so how can they possibly influence government?

And I'm sure the construction industry is just in love with the idea of building out new LNG-fired power plants to replace nuclear.

I hate Abe as much as the next person, but come on, sometimes choices are made for good reasons.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 AM on September 12, 2013


i hate to ask, but did you read the article? i cited some of the passages; here's another:
Abe is a longstanding advocate of nuclear power and since assuming the premiership in December 2012 has made no bones about getting as many reactors online as fast as possible, although carefully stating that this is contingent on confirming operational safety. He purged his energy advisory team of anti-nuclear critics and brought back key pro-nuclear architects of Japan's ambitious national energy strategy in 2010 that called for a significant expansion of Japan's nuclear energy to 50% of electricity generating capacity by 2030. (Asahi 12/29/2012) In vocally and repeatedly backing reactor restarts, Abe is exerting political pressure on the new nuclear watchdog agency, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), to facilitate his agenda. During the 2013 Upper House election campaign policy debate, the LDP was the only party to oppose phasing out nuclear energy and sees its solitary position as a badge of responsibility; but on this issue principles owe much to financial interests.
disagree if you want, but it seems pretty clear; it's like saying bush/cheney didn't have any ties to the oil industry (which is a 'major, strategic piece' of US infrastructure) and weren't actively trying to advance their interests...
posted by kliuless at 12:21 PM on September 12, 2013


i hate to ask, but did you read the article?

Yes, but whether you agree with them or not, Jeff Kingston and Japan Focus definitely have their own slant or take on the situation.

In regards to the extract you quoted above uses some pretty biased and inflammatory language, and besides, as I stated above (and you will forgive me if I say that I have been following the nuclear industry in Japan for nearly 20 years), saying that "financial interests" dictate Abe and the LDP's nuclear policy is a gross oversimplication.

As said above, nuclear power is a key element of Japan's energy infrastructure. It represents hundreds of billions of dollars of assets that are not easy to replace, forms the economic backbone of many ruralities, both in terms of jobs and tax base and technology transfer, and provides relatively cheap (if you exclude the cost of the Fukushima cleanup or decommissioning) power to Japanese industry; many companies are also located in rural Japan where they employ actual workers.

So yeah, I read the article, and, as usual I disagreed with Kingston and Japan Focus.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:41 PM on September 13, 2013


it's like saying bush/cheney didn't have any ties to the oil industry

While it's true that Abe is a blueblood and belongs to the same social and economic milieu as the oligarchs who run the country, as far as I know Abe has never worked for Japan's equivalent of Halliburton as Cheney did. Seems like a rather inflammatory comparison.

To be clear, it's not that I don't think Abe is a bastard, it's just that I think things are a little more complicated than Japan Focus would like us to think. It's not that I don't like left-wing pubs like Japan Focus, it's that I dislike dogma.

I've also never lived in Tokyo, but have spent most of the past twenty years connected to a nuclear town. I know a lot of people who work in the industry as workers and engineers.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:46 PM on September 13, 2013


spent most of the past twenty years connected to a nuclear town

i'm not trying to be snarky, but i think there could be some bias here as well... wait, and so you _could_ compare abe with bush!? (speaking of selective comparisons ;)

anyway, i'm just an outside observer really interested in japan's political economy[*] and fascinated by the possibility of abenomics forging a new 'development model' not just for the rest of asia but the whole world; i'm pretty convinced that what japan went thru the last two decades is what we're -- the US (also europe) -- are undergoing now, (w/japan in many respects having done a lot better) and what many developing economies will face soon enough.

like, for example: BoJ insider warns of need for wage rises: Government is putting pressure on business to boost income ... huh, what? could that even happen _here_? and what's with soka gakkai?

so, being there, thanks for the perspective and insight. i take your word for it, but again the way you describe japan's nuclear industry can equally describe the US petroleum industry (minus the wars of course), which makes it such an effective (but less pernicious) lobby impeding solar adoption. how else can you explain the push for nuclear versus public opinion against it? or like contrast with germany...

do you agree with the conclusion?
this it is not an either/or choice; ramping up renewable energy doesn't preclude restarting reactors. The utilities want to replace fuel imports with nuclear power to stem losses and recoup their massive investment. However, by ignoring many of the lessons of Fukushima, and fast tracking restarts even as the nuclear crisis lingers, the government and utilities continue to downplay risk, leaving Japan vulnerable to another nuclear accident.
is the NRA looking out for the public interest? abe _hasn't_ pressured the NRA? and you're confident it doesn't suffer from regulatory capture? i'm sure i'm not the only one who really wants to know...

fwiw, i'm actually agnostic on nuclear power _if_ it can be made safe (go taylor wilson) but given the history and the veritable glut of solar power, née swanson's law, i just think there is a better opportunity here along the lines that elon musk set up with solarcity (and putting up a good fight against armies of lobbyists) in which _someone_ puts up the upfront costs of installation and recurring maintenance in exchange for payment streams that are lower than the utility (as solar becomes more competitive per watt than coal/oil/gas generation, esp when you include environmental and national security issues). that is all.

---
[*] but also really into ozu, naruse, miyazaki, otomo, altho i could never get into murakami (pinball 1973 was good...), supercar, cornelius, ramen, etc. to help round out my appreciation :P
posted by kliuless at 5:26 PM on September 13, 2013


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