(Asahi: January 29, 2015 – p. 7)
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) will begin on Jan. 30 deliberations on “the composition of overall power generation” (energy mix), which will show what energy sources will provide Japan’s electric power in 2030. While the government plans to minimize reliance on nuclear power generation “as much as possible,” it has indicated a stance of restarting the suspended nuclear power plants. The government is apparently moving forward with the idea of having nuclear generation make up about 15-25% of the energy mix.
The “subcommittee on long-term energy supply and demand outlook” (chaired by Masahiro Sakane, advisor at Komatsu Ltd.) is in charge of examining the composition of overall power generation. The subcommittee has 14 members, many of whom are researchers who support nuclear power generation or representatives from related industries.
The subcommittee is expected to decide by June on the composition of overall power generation for 2030 by studying power generation costs for each power source, such as nuclear and thermal power. This is because in a meeting of leaders of the seven major powers (G7 summit) scheduled in June, measures to prevent global warming are expected to be one of the items on the agenda. If the future composition of overall power generation remains unclear, Japan will not be able to explain its target quota for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The major focus will be on the ratio of nuclear power generation. While the administration defined nuclear power as “an important base load power source” in the Basic Energy Plan decided by the Cabinet in July last year, it also clearly states that the government will “minimize the reliance on nuclear power as much as possible.” Therefore, attention will be focused on how much the government can reduce the ratio from 28.6%, the ratio of nuclear power for FY2010 when the accident occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
After the nuclear accident, the government revised the law to change the time that nuclear reactors should be decommissioned to 40 years from the start of operation. If this law is applied to all existing 48 reactors, the number of reactors will drop to 18 reactors by 2030. In the meantime, the Oma Nuclear Power Plant of J Power (Electric Power Development Co., Ltd.) and Reactor No. 3 of the Shimane Nuclear Power plant of Chugoku Electric Co., Inc., which are currently under construction, are expected to be put into operation. One of the subcommittee members said, “The ratio of nuclear generation is estimated to be around 15%.”
METI wishes to maintain nuclear power generation as a “base load power source” at “over 20%” at minimum. This would require the operation of multiple nuclear plants to be extended beyond than 40 years. Some of the members of the subcommittee are in favor of reconstruction or increasing nuclear plants. If this is approved, a ratio of 25% would be possible.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) supports “a return to nuclear power generation.” The LDP began discussions within the party on Jan. 7 on the composition of overall power generation in order to put forward the party’s own proposal. A leading LDP member said “The government cannot be as candid as the party. If the party proposes a numerical target ahead of the government, it will help the experts to reach a conclusion smoothly.”
Renewable energy to occupy over 20%
The ratio of renewable energy (including hydroelectric power) such as solar and wind power will also be discussed. The government will try to achieve a ratio higher than the past target of “about 20% by 2030” specified in the Basic Energy Plan. The focus will be on how much higher the government can go.
The feed-in-tariff (FIT) system in which electric companies buy electricity produced using renewable energy sources at a fixed price was introduced in July 2012. As a result, solar power generation increased rapidly, and the ratio of renewable energy rose to 10.7% in FY2013 from 9.6% in FY2010.
However, the fixed price by which electric companies pay for such energy is reflected in electricity charges. METI estimates that if the renewable energy ratio rises to 20%, the burden on general households will increase from 225 yen to 935 yen a month.
Unable to keep up with the rapid increase of solar power generation, five electric power companies, including Kyushu Electric Power Co., Inc., suspended accepting new applications from renewable energy producers last year. The companies will also need to shoulder the cost of expanding the grid to meet the supply. Future discussions will include the issue of how much more burden can be taken on as a result of the increase in renewable energy.