U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Earth Day (April 22) that the United States will increase wind power generation to about 20 percent of the nation’s total power generation by 2030. In view of the fact that alternative energy sources, including solar and wind power, now account for less than 3 percent of U.S. power generation, Mr. Obama’s plan is ambitious. Compared with the U.S. and other countries, Japan appears to lack a clear strategy for long-range development of renewable energy sources.

Japan once led the world in the development of solar, wind and geothermal power. But it is now lagging behind other nations. In solar power generation, Japan lost its No. 1 place to Germany in 2005. At the end of 2008, Japan slipped from the No. 2 spot to the No. 3 spot. Spain with capacity for 2.3 million kW moved up to the No. 2 spot, following Germany’s 5.4 million kW. Japan’s capacity was less than 40 percent of Germany’s at 1.97 million kW. In terms of the capacity of solar panels newly set up in 2008, Japan dropped to the No. 4 spot with only 240,000 kW.

In wind power generation, the U.S. passed Germany to grab the No. 1 spot in 2008. U.S. output was about 25 million kW, topping Germany’s 24 million kW. Japan was outside the top 10, with only about 1.9 million kW.

Under government guidance, Japanese power companies have been buying some electricity generated by solar panels, but the amount has been limited. The government has recently decided to nearly double the price at which power companies buy solar panel-generated electricity. But even under this new system, owners of solar panels cannot recoup initial investment in a short time. Germany and Spain have approached this problem by making it mandatory for power companies to purchase electricity generated by solar panels for a long period of time.

Although initial investment for development of new energy sources costs a lot, the government should work out concrete goals and methods to increase renewable energy sources. This would help decrease dependence on oil as well reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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