Hurdles ahead for govt’s effort to promote renewable energy

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

A wind power plant is seen in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, in October 2016.

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe government is expected to face many hurdles in promoting renewable energy, while a draft proposal compiled by a government panel positions such energy as a main source of electric power supply over a long-term period to 2050.

The expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry failed to set out numerical targets for each source of electric power supply in the draft proposal. The government’s major challenges include how to lower the cost of power generation and how to innovate the related technology.

“I would like to praise [the draft proposal] for setting an ambitious target for decarbonization,” said astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, a member of the panel. She praised the draft proposal that positions renewable energy as a key energy source.

The global situation regarding energy has significantly changed after the Paris Agreement came into effect in 2016 to set a course for measures against global warming. Many countries, especially developed nations, have accelerated their efforts to promote renewable energy, lowering their dependence on fossil fuels such as crude oil and coal.

Japan is no exception in this regard, but there are many hurdles to overcome when introducing a large amount of renewable energy.

Japan’s geographical circumstances limit the available space to set up solar panels and construct wind power generators, thereby making it difficult for the nation to generate significant amounts of electricity by such means. The generation cost of renewable energy is said to be more expensive in Japan than in European nations.

Renewable energy has a weak point in that its supply tends to be unstable as its generation is influenced by the weather.

As part of efforts to overcome these challenges, the panel pointed out the need to store generated electric power in batteries or establish the technology to effectively generate electricity using hydrogen.

“It is essential how we put this issue into concrete policies,” said Prof. Junko Edahiro at the Graduate School of Leadership and Innovation Shizenkan University. The major challenge is how to encourage technological innovation in private companies.

On this point, the draft said Japan should refer to Britain and other countries that have been able to curb greenhouse gas emissions and lower power-generation costs by combining various power sources such as renewables and nuclear power.

However, the position of nuclear power is ambiguous in the draft proposal. The draft stressed the need to develop the technology for a compact nuclear reactor and secure human resources by positioning nuclear power as a necessary electricity source for decarbonization.

On the other hand, the draft proposal said that it will maintain the government’s policy to lower dependence on nuclear power plants as much as possible, and did not refer to new construction and expansion of nuclear power plants.

The draft did not clarify its vision on how new technology will be utilized for nuclear power plants in the future. “The year 2050 is only a milestone. [We must think about] what we should do after fossil fuels are exhausted. The government should not refuse to face the nuclear issue,” said panel member Masahiro Sakane, a senior adviser at Komatsu Ltd.

A focal point is how to change the trend — due mainly to the shutdown of nuclear reactors following the Great East Japan Earthquake — of increasing dependence on thermal power generation that uses coal and other fuels. The draft proposal took a position that thermal power is a complementary power source to renewable energy and will continue to be a main source of energy for some time to come.

However, thermal power generation has come under harsh scrutiny as it cannot avoid releasing carbon dioxide.

The government plans to position renewable energy as main source of energy in its energy plan for how to generate power in 2030. The government will be put to the test on how to lay out a policy on the use of energy toward 2050.Speech

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