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Cities outshine Tokyo on energy mix with ambitious goal for renewables

by

Staff Writer

By the end of this month, the government is expected to announce a national long-term energy plan for 2030 that will include a “best energy mix” scenario — the formula for the various ratios of oil, coal, LNG, nuclear power and renewable energy that will be powering Japan in 15 years’ time.

Of the different energy sources, it’s the role of the latter two that has provoked the most tension and argument.

Last month, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry panel in charge of setting Japan’s energy mix goals for the next 15 years predicted that by 2030, nuclear power would still be the cheapest source available, at ¥10.1 per kilowatt-hour. While the cost of using renewables is expected to drop somewhat from their levels in 2011, the government insists they will still be more expensive than nuclear power.

METI’s goal for 2030 shows Japan’s energy mix consisting of 27 percent LNG, 26 percent coal, 3 percent oil, 22 to 24 percent renewable energy, and 20 to 22 percent nuclear.

Within the renewable portion, the major sources are expected to be hydro (8.8-9.1 percent), solar (7 percent), biomass (3.7 to 4.6 percent), wind (1.7 percent, including land and offshore farms), and geothermal (1 to 1.1 percent).

But it is not just pro-renewable energy groups and international organizations like Greenpeace that believe the 20 to 22 percent goal for nuclear is unrealistically high and the 22 to 24 percent goal for renewable energy is unrealistically low.

Earlier this month, the mayors and representatives of 19 of Japan’s largest cities, whose combined population of over 27 million is about one-fifth of the country’s total, gathered in Kyoto to discuss the future of renewable energy. In a letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the group called for the government to set a “30 by 30″ target, or having renewable energy generate 30 percent of Japan’s total electricity by 2030.

“In order to realize a sustainable, low carbon society and accelerate the introduction of renewable energy, the central government should not only set a high target for renewable energy, but also offer assistance for the development of battery storage and hydrogen technology as well (as a) detailed policy for assisting the introduction of renewable energy in our various local energy plans. The government should also indicate targets for each renewable energy source,” the letter said.

“As to the overall share of renewable energy, the central government should set a positive goal of 30 percent of electricity generated by renewables,” it added.

In fiscal 2014, due to what the nation’s utilities said was projected oversupply from renewable-energy producers that caused them to temporarily suspend purchases of such energy under the feed-in tariff system, the use of renewable energy rose 1.5 percent over 2013.

Renewables now account for more than 12 percent of Japan’s electricity at present.

By 2030, the mayors see small and midsize solar facilities and biomass facilities (based on sewage and sludge as well as forestry) as being key sources of renewable energy.

They also called for increased government support for developing hydrogen energy, especially things like filling stations.

But the major cities are not waiting on Tokyo to set their local energy policy. They all have different targets and policies for the future. Most of these are based on logical assumptions about future advancements in both renewable-energy generation technology and the development of more energy-efficient houses, cars and electronic goods, as well as statistics about how their demographic changes are projected to unfold in the coming years.

The result, for the most part, is goals, or at least predictions, for the future use of renewable energy on a local level that appear far more ambitious than the national goal being pursued by the central government.

For example, the city of Kyoto aims to reduce energy consumption by 15 percent by 2020 (compared to 2010 levels), and plans to increase the amount of renewable energy it uses by 2020.

Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, plans to hike renewable energy use by a factor of five by 2030 from 2011, while reducing energy consumption 10 percent.

Fukuoka has said it plans to quadruple the amount of installed capacity for renewable energy by 2022, while Yokohama has set a goal of more than tripling its installed capacity by 2030, and having almost three times the current level of generated electricity come from renewables.

Sapporo is one of the few major cities that has declared a specific goal for reducing its dependence on nuclear power. Hokkaido’s largest city plans to reduce its pre-2011 reliance on atomic generation by half by 2022, through a combination of conservation measures, renewable-energy initiatives, and other energy policies.

In Osaka, where Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has waged highly public battles with Kansai Electric Power Co. over nuclear energy, the city plans to increase the amount of solar power it uses by 900,000 kw.

“Local production, local consumption of energy, as well as energy-saving policies mean that cities around Japan can lead the way in setting goals and policies for renewable energy that the central government should use as a reference,” Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa, who heads the group of mayors that sent Abe the letter, told reporters at the Kyoto conference.

“While each city may choose to set its own specific energy plans, the longer-term goal should be, as much as possible, not (to) rely on nuclear power,” he said.

Kansai Perspective appears on the fourth Monday of each month, focusing on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.