How should a stable supply of electricity be promoted while paying attention to environmental issues? It is necessary to seek a good balance in utilizing various power sources, such as renewable energy, and nuclear and thermal power.
An expert panel at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has put together a draft for reconsidering the basic energy plan. The revised plan will serve as a guideline stating how the government should pursue a long-term energy supply up to 2030.
The targets for the proportion of each source in the overall mix of power sources in 2030 have been set at the same levels as in a similar plan devised in 2014. Specifically, the figures stand at 22 to 24 percent for renewable energy, 20 to 22 percent for nuclear power and 56 percent for coal-fired and other thermal power.
The draft plan calls for reducing thermal power and expanding renewable energy in line with the trend toward the use of fossil-free energy. It also designates nuclear power as an important base load power source of electricity. This course of action stated in the draft plan is understandable.
The plan states that preliminary efforts will be made to transform renewable energy into a main power source, marking the first time the endeavor has been clearly stated in writing. However, there are many problems that are difficult to overcome through current technology.
Solar and wind power — whose output can greatly fluctuate depending on the time of day and the weather — account for a share equivalent to about nine percentage points in the target proportion for renewable energy. They require a backup through thermal power generation so supply-demand adjustments can be made. Doubts cannot be eliminated about whether they can serve as a main source of power.
Reactivate N-power facilities
Renewable energy also entails the problem of high costs. The fixed-price purchase system for renewable energy was inaugurated in 2012, when the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan was in power. The prices at which electric power companies purchase renewable energy were set at extremely high levels, resulting in a sharp increase in the number of new entries into the market. This has incurred a steep rise in the financial burden on the public.
Renewable energy purchases are expected to reach ¥4 trillion in fiscal 2030, a figure tantamount to a ¥10,000 burden shouldered by each standard household annually.
Solar power accounts for 80 percent of the output capacity approved under the system, because building equipment for such generation is easy. There will be a pressing need to promote the spread of wind, geothermal and biomass-based generation, thereby rectifying the disproportionate weight of solar power generation.
The draft plan also calls for utilizing coal-fired power as a base load source of thermal power, as its generation costs are low and its resource procurement easy.
Although coal-fired thermal power is necessary for securing a stable energy supply, it has such environmental problems as discharging twice the carbon dioxide of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Efforts should be made to steadily replace coal-fired power plants with cutting-edge facilities that produce only a small amount of emissions.
Nuclear power plants that emit no carbon dioxide are helpful for reducing the environmental burden. They are highly efficient in power generation and their fuel procurement is easy — therefore, they contribute to energy security.
It is indispensable to operate about 30 nuclear power plants so the target mix of power sources can be achieved. There are now eight nuclear power stations in operation. The government and electric power companies should strive to restore the people’s confidence in nuclear power generation and reactivate nuclear facilities whose safety has been confirmed.
Nuclear power plants are to be decommissioned 40 to 60 years after the start of their operations. As long as nuclear power generation is treated as a base load power source of electricity, building new and additional facilities must be brought into view.