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Editorial: As govt compiles new energy plan, consider CO2, steady power supply

  • October 17, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 4:05 p.m.
  • English Press

How should the government deal with the challenge of ensuring a stable supply of electricity while curbing greenhouse gas emissions? A realistic path should be explored through sober debate.


The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has begun considering revisions to the nation’s basic energy plan for the medium to long term. The plan is reviewed roughly every three years, and the ministry plans to present a new plan as early as next summer.


The current plan, which was set in 2018, aims to have renewable energy account for 22% to 24% of the nation’s energy supply by fiscal 2030, with nuclear power accounting for 20% to 22%, and thermal power sources such as coal and liquefied natural gas accounting for 56%. These targets are unchanged from the outlook compiled in 2015.


The Paris Agreement, an international framework for combating global warming, came into effect in 2016, and the movement to decarbonize energy sources by reducing the use of fossil fuels, which emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, is spreading. Under the new plan, further reliance on thermal power, which uses fossil fuels, will not be a feasible option.


The government has already decided to suspend or scrap the use of inefficient coal-fired thermal power plants by fiscal 2030.


In order to decarbonize energy sources, the focus is on how much renewable energy can be increased.


Renewable energy, including hydropower, accounted for 17% of Japan’s energy supply in fiscal 2018, nearly double its share in fiscal 2010. The government launched a feed-in tariff program in 2012, and that has increased solar power generation. The government aims to further expand renewable energy by promoting offshore wind power.


The challenge is the high cost. The cost of electricity for households and businesses has increased by more than 10% to ¥2.4 trillion a year as a result of surcharges associated with the program being added to their electricity bills. The amount of increase is nearly ¥10,000 per year for a standard household. It is also reducing the international competitiveness of companies.


The amount of solar and wind power generated depends on the weather and other factors and is therefore unstable. When electricity supply and demand are not balanced, there is a risk of blackouts.


As society becomes increasingly digitized, a stable supply of electricity is becoming more and more important. There is a need for a combination of renewable energy and complementary power sources.


If it is not feasible to rely solely on fossil fuels, the most effective way would be to use nuclear power. It does not emit carbon dioxide and it can generate electricity in a stable manner. Unlike fossil fuels, which are dependent on imports, increasing the amount of electricity generated by nuclear power would increase Japan’s energy self-sufficiency.


Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, only nine of the 33 nuclear power plants nationwide, excluding those scheduled for decommissioning, have been restarted. It is necessary for the government to explain to the public the necessity of using nuclear power plants with the new plan and to encourage their restart in a responsible manner.


At the same time, in order to regain the public’s trust in nuclear power, the government and the private sector must accelerate the development of technology to further increase safety. Since there are many outdated facilities, efforts should be made to deepen discussion on the construction of new nuclear power plants or expanding existing facilities.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 17, 2020.

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