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Renewable energy thrives in Japan
by Staff Writers
Tokyo, Japan (SPX) Apr 19, 2013

A solar power plant in Shinto, Japan.

TWO themes dominate discussion on Japan's energy policy two years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.

Mainstream media continue to emphasise that the catastrophe was basically man-made and could have been avoided had the 'nuclear village' not dismissed many warnings that shore-based reactors would not withstand a major tsunami.

This position has been supported by the official investigation report of the Japanese parliament and by the previous Democratic Party of Japan governments under Prime Ministers Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda.

Its adherents recommend that Japan abandon nuclear energy until 2040. A more rapid exit, similar to Germany's, has never won widespread support but has effectively been implemented by the switching off all but two of the country's 50 remaining reactors.

The competing narrative emphasises that the March 2011 disaster was a totally unpredictable 'black swan' event, a natural disaster that occurs once in a millennium. The root cause of the catastrophe, it says, was the earthquake, not flawed decision-making.

Its supporters claim it would be unwise to give up the advantages of nuclear power because of a single accident.

The current Liberal Democratic Party government leans towards this position, but does not embrace it officially. Instead, new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has kept a low profile with regard to energy policy.

Knowing that a re-start of nuclear plants remains highly unpopular, he will not make any major decision, in a bid to win the Upper House election in July 2013.

Mr Abe has announced that a final decision on Japan's long-term energy strategy will not be made before the 2020s.

Japan will pursue a highly diversified energy policy. In particular, it will focus on reducing the costs of liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports and increasing the share of renewables.

Among these, solar shows by far the strongest growth.

In 2012, it added approximately 2.5GW of solar energy capacity to the 4.8GW already installed (including all market segments).

The accumulated capacity accounts for about six per cent of the worldwide installed capacity, in terms of which Japan ranks fifth, clearly behind Germany (33GW) and Italy (17GW), but almost on par with China (8GW) and the US (8GW).

Japan ranks 13th globally with a total installed wind power capacity of 2.6GW. To further boost this, the feed-in tariff for wind projects remains unchanged at 23.1 yen/kWh for 20 years.

The Japanese government continues to favour wind over solar energy, but the market shows a strong preference for solar, at least as long as the very high feed-in tariffs - in international terms - are kept in place.


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