Make up for weakness of renewable energy to realize decarbonization

How to balance the promotion of decarbonization, aiming for zero greenhouse gas emissions, and the stability of the power supply necessary for daily life now remains an issue. It is hoped that the upcoming House of Representatives election will be an opportunity to think about a realistic energy policy.

Amid the global trend of decarbonization, each party is emphasizing the importance of preventing global warming. It is necessary to curb power generation using fossil fuels such as coal and liquefied natural gas, but this must not result in an unstable power supply.

A major point of contention is whether to make use of nuclear power.

The Liberal Democratic Party clarified in its campaign pledge that nuclear reactors will be restarted when their safety is confirmed. The LDP’s coalition partner Komeito also is likely to allow the restart of reactors.

Only 10 nuclear reactors have been restarted since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. The government plans to increase the share of nuclear power in the nation’s electricity supply from 6% in fiscal 2019 to 20-22% in fiscal 2030. To realize this, nearly 30 reactors will need to be in operation.

In many cases, there remains strong opposition from local residents to the restart of nuclear reactors. However, nuclear power generation has the advantages of not emitting carbon dioxide and stably providing electricity. The ruling coalition should explain this thoroughly to the public during the election campaign and present policies on how to win the understanding of local communities.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, on the other hand, has vowed to realize as soon as possible a society that does not rely on nuclear power. The construction of new reactors will not be allowed, the party has said. The Japanese Communist Party has advocated a “zero nuclear power” policy.

Given this, the parties should offer realistic alternatives that can assure a stable power supply without nuclear power.

The CDPJ and the JCP are calling for a drastic expansion of renewable energy sources. The government plan includes doubling the share of renewable energy in fiscal 2030 from the 18% in fiscal 2019, while the CDPJ has set a goal of 50% in 2030 and 100% in 2050.

It must be noted, however, that the road to realizing such a goal will be bumpy. Solar power generation increased rapidly under the feed-in tariff system that began in 2012, leaving few suitable sites for further expansion. Expectations are high for offshore wind power, but this has yet to be fully commercialized.

Above all, renewable energy’s weakness is that its power generation is unstable. In Europe, where wind power generation has been expanding, power generation efficiency fell due to weakened wind since this summer, causing power shortages in Spain and Britain. The price of natural gas for power generation has been skyrocketing.

Japan also experienced in January a tightened situation regarding the supply and demand of electricity, when snowfall caused a drop in the output of solar power generation, among other reasons.

It is important to recognize the weaknesses of renewable energy and discuss practical ways to make up for them.