The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is hoped that the latest energy-related move will serve as an initial step toward rehabilitating industries in areas stricken by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
This summer, work to build a plant that uses solar power to produce hydrogen will start in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture. The factory is an experimental facility to be run by the government and such companies as Toshiba Corp. and Tohoku Electric Power Co., and is scheduled to go into operation in 2020.
The plant will be among the world’s largest of its kind to manufacture hydrogen through the use of renewable energy. Its daily production volume will be equivalent to the amount of fuel consumed by 560 fuel cell-powered vehicles (FCVs). It is said that for the time being, the plant’s output will be used for FCV buses that will operate around sites for the Tokyo Olympics.
The Namie factory is expected to serve as a foothold for the fostering of new industries that support areas affected by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The Fukushima prefectural government and the Namie town government should be advised to use the plant as the mainstay of their efforts to facilitate a wide range of industrial centralization involving energy-related corporations, thereby reinvigorating the local economy and creating jobs.
Hydrogen, a source of energy that does not emit carbon dioxide when it is consumed, is gathering worldwide attention. The gas is relatively easy to preserve and carry. Not only carmakers and railway operators but also electricity and gas industries have become interested in hydrogen as fuel for power generation.
Increasing demand key
If the factory gets well under way, it will help promote the utilization of renewable energy. There are expectations for the plant as a type of power generation facility that seeks to facilitate “local production for local consumption,” combined with the renewable energy that utilizes the nature of each region, such as solar and wind power generation.
How to increase demand for hydrogen — this is a necessary task for realizing a society in which hydrogen is utilized on a full scale, with the hydrogen production factory used as a footing for that endeavor. The key to this is how to promote the spread of FCVs.
The government has announced a goal of ensuring that 200,000 FCVs are in use by the end of 2025. At present, the figure only stands at about 2,000, as the high price of FCVs and the cost of constructing hydrogen stations pose a hindrance to that target.
FCVs have some advantages over their rival electric vehicles (EVs). In general, FCVs boast longer mileage, and they can be filled up with hydrogen in a short period of time.
It will be necessary to take strategic measures aimed at spreading the use of FCVs, such as placing priority on using them as trucks, buses and trains. It is easier to build hydrogen supply facilities because the routes used by transport vehicles are relatively regular, compared with those for privately owned cars.
It is indispensable for the government to promote the spread of hydrogen stations by relaxing regulations on construction and other standards, thus reducing the costs involved.
It is also important to accumulate efforts in this and then promote Japanese FCVs in the global eco-friendly car market.
When the use of hydrogen goes into full swing, how to secure a stable supply will be a problem to be settled.
What is being floated is a plan to extract hydrogen from low-priced Australian and other overseas coal and then transport such hydrogen by sea. Technical problems involved must be overcome through industry-government-academia cooperation.