How can Japan, which relies on fossil fuel imports, establish a system to stably secure electric power? This must be tackled through a united effort by the public and private sectors.
An expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has put together the nation’s long-term energy strategy toward 2050.
The strategy envisions fostering renewable energy as the main source of electricity generation that would account for a major portion of the power source configuration.
It is understandable that the panel, while taking into consideration the Paris Agreement — an international framework for anti-global warming measures — has put forth a policy to bolster renewable energy to achieve an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 compared with the level in 1990.
The volume of power generated by solar and wind power, both mainstream renewable energy sources, varies greatly depending on the weather and time zone. Concerns about them becoming main power sources, from the viewpoint of securing a stable supply, cannot currently be eradicated.
As a measure to stabilize output variations, the long-term strategy recommends realizing a generation system that combines renewable energy and batteries, among other things.
The proposed system’s generation cost is as high as ¥95 per kilowatt-hour due to the high price of batteries — this bears no comparison with the ¥10 incurred through nuclear power or coal-fired thermal power generation.
Guaranteeing a power supply while curbing environmental burdens — striking a balance between the two is not easy, but must be achieved through the wisdom of industrial, academic and government circles.
Resolve issues one by one
A viable option could be the efficient use of geothermal generation, which is low in generation cost among renewable energy sources and ensures a stable output, and biomass power generation, which uses wood chips as fuel.
The panel regards nuclear power generation, which produces no carbon dioxide at the time of generation, as a major option to supplement renewable energy. The panel’s call to immediately start enhancing technology and personnel in this field is reasonable.
The delay in restarting nuclear reactors has caused problems in fostering personnel at power utilities and universities, because nuclear generation is assumed to have no future.
To ensure the stable operation of nuclear power plants, it is essential to accelerate the studies being made by the government and utilities toward establishing a collaborative nuclear power generation system.
Based on the long-term strategy, the government will revise its basic energy plan — which outlines the policy direction for the next 10 to 20 years — and adopt a Cabinet decision on it this summer.
Desirable composition rates for power generation sources in 2030 are likely to be left unchanged, at 20-22 percent for nuclear generation and 22-24 percent for renewable energy.
It is worrying that not a few people are skeptical about whether it is possible to achieve even the composition rates for 2030, which are supposed to serve as preconditions for the long-term strategy.
To enhance the credibility of nuclear power generation and overcome renewable energy’s technical obstacles, the government must first of all work to resolve the impending issues one by one.