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Japan’s new energy strategy: much more than nuclear exit

Japan’s Cabinet released Japan’s new “Innovative Energy and Environmental Strategy”

Japan’s new energy strategy

Last Friday, September 14, 2012, Japan’s Cabinet released Japan’s new “Innovative Energy and Environmental Strategy”, which the Cabinet is required to produce by law, and which actually contains much more than the plan to work towards a future nuclear power free society.

We have analyzed the full official “Innovative Energy and Environmental Strategy” in the original Japanese version, and we have prepared a 19 page English language summary which you can find on pages 5-23 of our “Japan Electrical Energy Landscape” report

Most English language press reports have focused on the three principles to work towards a nuclear free society

  1. strictly limit the operation of nuclear power plants to 40 years age
  2. restart those nuclear power plants, where the safety has been assured by the Nuclear Safety Commission
  3. no new construction or expansion of nuclear power stations

These principles – if maintained – may lead to the last nuclear power station in Japan to be switched off around 2052, ie about 40 years from now.

However, Japan’s new energy strategy framework paper contains much more

  • five policy packages concerning: the nuclear fuel cycle, human resources and technology development, cooperation with the global community, regional measures, the nuclear industry system and system for compensation of damages
  • measures for reducing electricity and energy consumption with targets until 2030 for two different economic growth scenarios
  • measures for promoting investment in renewable energy, with renewable energy generation targets until 2030
  • targets for electricity cogeneration until 2030
  • electricity power system reform, including unbundling of generation, transport and retail with the promotion of vibrant electricity markets
  • opening, strengthening and neutral electricity grid network, fair and accessible to all electricity producers
  • and most of all, a planned transition from passive electricity bill paying consumers to aware and active market participants who as much as possible generate their own electricity, and who instead of paying electricity bills, earn money from electricity they generate

In particular, the strategy plan states explicitly:

“…. it is indispensable, that electricity grid networks can be used by anyone, and to have competitive electricity markets”.

When trying to predict the far future, whether Japan will actually go completely non-nuclear or not, keep in mind that Sweden has decided to go non-nuclear in the 1980s, and has reversed this decision around 2010.

Currently only two of Japan’s remaining 50 nuclear reactors are in operation. It will be interesting to see if and when the safety of additional reactors are approved, and how rapidly the announcement dramatic deregulation and structural reform of Japan’s electricity system will be implemented, and how much of the announced policy steps might be reversed – or accelerated – by future Governments.

The strategy plan announced on September 14, 2012 has not yet created any irreversible facts.
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Japan’s PM Noda hints at new energy policy: Phasing out nuclear power by the 2030s

Develop as soon as possible a society which does not rely on nuclear power

Eliminate nuclear power according to three principles

By law Japan’s government must prepare a national energy strategy plan. The currently valid plan provides for an increase of nuclear power from 30% to 50% and is vehemently opposed by public opinion following the Fukushima nuclear disaster and much loss of public trust in nuclear power in Japan – while at the same time many Japanese traditional industry leaders promote nuclear power as a necessity.

Decision on the new energy plan has been postponed, but is likely to be announced later this week. However, Japan’s public Radio and TV NHK reports, that Prime-Minister Noda yesterday at a Press Conference hinted at the content of the new energy policy plan. Some sources say that the new energy plan has already been approved by the cabinet.

NHK reports the following about Japan’s new energy policy

  • Develop as soon as possible (translated word by word from Japanese: “one day earlier than possible”) a society which does not rely on nuclear power
  • use all political means to enable zero nuclear power in the “2030s” (which might mean 2040 depending on the interpretation)
  • promote renewable energy in order to enable zero nuclear power
  • eliminate nuclear power according to three principles
    • no nuclear power station older then 40 years
    • restart only those nuclear power stations, for which safety has been approved by the Nuclear Safety Commission
    • no new power stations
  • operate nuclear power stations, for which the safety has been assured, as an important power source

We expect Japan’s new energy policy plan, which is required by law, to be announced later this week.

Regarding nuclear phase-out keep in mind that:

The Swedish Parliament in 1980 decided that no new nuclear power stations shall be built and that Sweden should complete shut-down of all nuclear power stations by 2010.
However, Sweden reversed nuclear phase-out, and on June 17, 2010, Swedish Parliament decided to replace the existing reactors with new nuclear reactors starting from January 1, 2011.

Therefore, if in the future Japan reverses the nuclear phase-out, Japan would not be the first country to do so.

Japan’s current nuclear near-shut down:

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster Japan effectively stopped nuclear power generation. There are no black-outs - how could Japan manage?
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster Japan effectively stopped nuclear power generation. There are no black-outs – how could Japan manage?

Detailed statistics, analysis and frequent updates – in our report on Japan’s energy sector.

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Electricity Japan's energy sector Natural Gas, LNG Renewable energy

Japan energy dilemma

Japanese law requires the government to have an energy strategy plan in place

Keep nuclear power off – or restart nuclear?

Japan’s current energy strategy plan provides for nuclear power to provide 30% of the electricity, rising to 50% in a few years by building additional nuclear power stations.

However, contrary to the current strategy plan the figure below shows, that Japan essentially switched off all nuclear power over the last year, with 2 exceptions.

A new energy strategy plan is delayed, but could be announced in the next few days. The Cabinet is in a dilemma to decide between the interests of the pro-nuclear business association Keidanren and the pro-nuclear electrical industry and considerable anti-nuclear movements in the general (voting) population.

One major problem is that Japan’s energy architecture and electricity industry is regulated by laws and regulations established in 1952. Essentially, Japan’s energy and electricity architecture has been frozen in 1952, and has not been changed until the Fukushima nuclear accident now forces change. The contribution of “new” renewable energy to Japan’s energy mix is so minute (except for water power), that it would be too small to be seen on the figures below. Our Japan-Energy report explains the major issues facing Japan’s energy architecture and its structure.

Japan’s energy peak is in summer (because energy consumption in Japan for air conditioning in summer is higher than for heating in winter), there were no black-outs, or brown-outs – how did Japan manage successfully despite the sudden unplanned exit from nuclear power? Read below…

How did Japan cope with the sudden exit from nuclear power?

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster Japan effectively stopped nuclear power generation. There are no black-outs - how could Japan manage?
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster Japan effectively stopped nuclear power generation. There are no black-outs – how could Japan manage?
Japan's survived by reducing summer peaks, and by increasing traditional caloric power production
Japan’s survived by reducing summer peaks, and by increasing traditional caloric power production

How did Japan cope with the sudden shut-down of nuclear power?

Japan’s peak power consumption is in summer, all nuclear power (with 2 exceptions) was switched off since this spring, and there were no black-outs, no brown-outs, and no major problems. How did Japan achieve this?

As the lower figure shows, traditional caloric energy production was increased by installing new power plants, and by bringing back old caloric power plants which had already been switched off, and by reducing the summer peak compared to recent years through energy savings. It has been estimated that the additional costs for imported fuel are on the order of US$ 40 billion.

Expect Japan’s new national energy strategy plan to be announced in the next few days.

Japan’s energy architecture is maybe a victim of its pre-Fukushima success: because Japan’s electricity supply was working so well, nobody felt motivated enough to change the existing monopolies, grid, energy mix, or to develop renewable energies. More in our Japan-energy report.

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