Devise means, new technology to expand use of renewable energy

How much can Japan, with its small land area, increase its use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power? It is important firstly to set feasible goals and accelerate technological innovation.

The government is currently discussing the revision of the basic energy plan, to be completed this summer, with the focus on how much to increase the ratio of renewable sources in the energy mix for fiscal 2030.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has estimated that the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy sources in fiscal 2030 will increase by about 50% compared to fiscal 2019 if the current system of power companies purchasing electricity from renewable energy sources at a set price is maintained. Renewable energy as a percentage of total power generation is estimated to increase from the current 18% to over 25%.

This level will meet the goal of 22% to 24% in the current basic plan, but the country will still have to rely on thermal power, which emits large amounts of carbon dioxide, unless nuclear power generation is increased substantially.

The government has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, so even if it achieves an increase in renewable energy sources to just over 25% in fiscal 2030, it is hard to say that it is sufficient.

Consumer groups and an organization made up of 175 companies that are keen on climate change measures are calling for a rate of at least 50%. An expert panel of the economy ministry, however, has argued that it would be difficult to reach much higher than 30%.

It is necessary to find a realistic level and to consider additional support measures through further discussions.

The current mainstay of renewable energy sources is solar power, the use of which has expanded rapidly. But with sparse amounts of flat land in Japan, suitable sites are limited. Already there is a shortage of land for solar power generation. There have been an increasing number of cases of companies cutting down forests to install solar panels, arousing opposition from local residents.

Is it possible to relax regulations to allow for the effective use of abandoned farm land? More schemes must be devised, such as expanding subsidies for installing solar panels on the roofs of factories and houses.

It is also important to encourage technological innovation. The government regards offshore wind power as a decisive factor, but there are still technical issues to be addressed, such as the commercial application of equipment that is suited to Japan’s topography and climate.

The development of large-capacity batteries is also important to overcome renewable energy’s Achilles’ heel: the fluctuation in power output depending on weather conditions. It is essential for the government to present a clear strategy and to attract investment from the private sector.

The cost of purchasing renewable energy at a set price is being passed from the utilities to consumers’ electricity bills in the feed-in tariff system. In fiscal 2021, the burden is expected to reach ¥2.7 trillion, or more than ¥10,000 per year for an average household.

With the expansion of renewable energy, further increases in the burden on households and businesses are inevitable. The government must make every effort to carefully explain the necessity of these measures and gain the public’s understanding.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 19, 2021.