Renewables Update

Japan’s industry can deliver power for the future in Japanese

28 May 2015 Tomas Kåberger, Chair of Executive Board, Japan Renewable Energy Foundation

I have more confidence in Japanese manufacturing industry than METI has.

METI’s information to the Japanese Government before the decision on the long term energy mix contains much that appears contradicting facts, some that are hard to believe, or other statements that are very pessimistic regarding the abilities of Japanese industry.

One of the numbers that appears to underestimate the ability of Japanese industry is on wind power development. Wind power has become the technology that provides the lowest cost new electricity in many countries in the world. Last year 50 GW of new capacity was brought on line. It was the largest new source of electricity in France, Germany and the whole of the EU as well as in the US and China.

Global wind power capacity has just passed nuclear capacity at about 380 GW. Global investments will certainly increase further as wind energy is simply cheaper than fossil and nuclear energy.

Japan is a good land for wind power. A long coast line offering opportunities for near-shore and offshore and, maybe, even floating power plants with good wind resources. There is agricultural land where farmers may follow their European and American colleagues and earn extra income from wind power plants while food production continues all around the foundations. A new tradition that makes agriculture more economically viable and attract young people as better income makes rural life more attractive. Mountain areas may fit wind power developments as higher costs of construction and power cables may be compensated by better wind conditions at higher altitude.

Japanese industry has the capacity to take a profitable part in this global development. The heavy industry parts of Mitsubishi, Japan Steel Works, Hitachi and others have most of the prerequisites to be profitable actors in the global development. Wind power plants have advanced, including more of information technology, improved efficiency made possible by aerodynamics and advanced material science. Japan’s industry could have benefitted further in this development by Japanese competencies. Cost reductions brought about by industrial manufacturing systems are also developments where Japanese industries could have been successful.

Still, METI has not shown any interest in letting Japanese industry develop this potential. Japanese regulation on wind energy is arranged to hinder development, not to support it or make it efficient.

Without a Japanese market for wind power plants Japanese industry will have difficulties ever taking part in the global market.

Wind energy could directly substitute much imported fossil fuels. With regulation and industrial opportunities comparable to other countries this could be done at lower cost than continuing fossil fuel use.

But this opportunity is obviously not seen by METI. In the vision for a future energy mix the Japanese industry is expected to build only 10 GW of wind power capacity in the 15 years that remain until 2030.

Only 10 GW in 15 years: 10 GW is what is built in China in 6 months!

I believe the industry in Japan can do much better than that. And, despite current policies, I believe it will.