Energy Plan: Technological Innovation Key to Achieving Decarbonization

How can a stable supply of electricity be secured while reducing the use of thermal power generation to achieve decarbonization? The government must strongly lend its support to technological innovation to solve this difficult task.

An expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has begun discussions aimed at revising the Strategic Energy Plan, which serves as a guideline for the nation’s energy policy. It is the first time in three years to review the plan, and a new plan is to be approved in a Cabinet meeting by the end of this fiscal year.

Regarding the nation’s energy mix in fiscal 2030, the current plan set the goal of having the share of renewable energy sources such as solar power at 36%-38%, nuclear power at 20%-22% and thermal power using coal and other fossil fuels at 41%.

The envisaged plan is expected to set targets for the energy mix in fiscal 2040. The focus will be on how much the ratio of renewable energy sources can be increased and how far the use of nuclear power can be advanced.

Japan has made an international pledge to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. It is hoped that the government will clearly outline a path to achieving this goal in the new plan.

Thermal power currently accounts for more than 70% of the nation’s electricity output, with renewable energy sources at about 22% and nuclear power at only about 6%. In reality, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve the 2050 goal.

Until recently, electricity demand was expected to decrease due to population decline. However, with the growing use of generative artificial intelligence, which consumes large amounts of electricity, demand is now predicted to expand.

It is necessary to increase the supply capacity to meet the growing demand, while at the same time, thermal power generation must be reduced to achieve decarbonization. To overcome this challenge, technological innovation is essential.

One way to strike a balance between these two tasks is to expand the use of renewable energy.

Suitable sites for conventional solar power generation are becoming scarce. It will be important to accelerate the wider use of new types of solar cell panels that can be attached to places such as building walls and windows.

It is also important to expand the use of offshore wind power generation, thus making it vital to establish mass production technology for floating facilities.

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. is working to develop a new type of semiconductor using optical technology, which the company says has the potential to drastically reduce electricity consumption.

It will be necessary to develop technologies like this that help realize decarbonization, and to put them into practical use. The government should devise a strategy to promote investment in technological development.

Nuclear power generation is also effective in both securing a stable supply of electricity and achieving decarbonization. Of the 33 nuclear reactors in Japan, only 12 have started operations since the Great East Japan Earthquake. The government should push for the resumption of operations.

Constructing new nuclear reactors and rebuilding existing ones will also be important items on the agenda. As long as the government regards nuclear power as a key source of electricity, it needs to clearly state in the new plan its policy on building additional reactors.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 20, 2024)