Green Energy Generation in Japan

Green Energy Generation in Japan

Since the 2011 Earthquake, Japan has rapidly changed its energy mix and has started focusing more on renewable energy sources. We have summarized what Japan's energy mix was like before the earthquake, what it is like now, and a what it plans to look like in the near future.

What is Green Energy?:

Energy which comes from sources that can be replenished naturally, such as sunlight, wind, and waves are considered renewable. Conversely, energy which comes from sources that can run out and deplete over time, such as coal, oil, and uranium are considered non-renewable.

Renewable energy sources compare favorably to fossil fuels because they produce less air and water pollutants. However, renewable sources can also have significant environmental impacts. For example, wind and solar power generation can result in terrain and social issues.

Green energy is a term used to define specific renewable energy sources that are the most beneficial for the environment, meaning that these sources of energy produce little-to-none greenhouse gas pollutants/global warming emissions, nor do they give rise to land use issues or endanger habitats.

How Does Japan Generate Power and Why?:

Paris Agreement:

To strengthen global warming countermeasures, many countries, including Japan, have vowed to take part in the Paris Agreement to help keep the global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius. Japan has also set itself an urgent task to source 44% of its total power from nuclear and renewable sources by 2030 to reduce their CO2 emissions.

Energy produced from renewable sources is beneficial for the environment as it produces the least amount of carbon. Similarly, the energy produced from nuclear also has low carbon emissions. This makes the two sources very attractive for addressing global warming issues.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is energy created by a process of splitting uranium atoms to produce heat. The heat is then used to warm water and produce steam, which is then used to generate electricity.

Uranium is found within the earth’s crust, and therefore, many people claim nuclear energy is nonrenewable because uranium is a finite source that will not replenish. However, technological advancements have made it possible to use infinite sources to produce nuclear energy allowing it to be renewable.

Regardless, a major drawback of using nuclear power is the harmful nuclear waste that is produced from the process. If such waste is not stored properly or if an accident occurs, harmful radioactive waste can potentially be released into the environment. One such example is the tragic 2011 Fukushima incident. In the aftermath of this incident, Japan has developed a strong anti-nuclear sentiment and set plans to reduce reliance upon nuclear energy in the future, and started to focus more on renewable energy like biomass, solar and geothermal.

Japan's Energy Mix

Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that significantly damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japan has been working on changing its energy mix. Japan has always been poor with resources such as oil and natural gas but after the 2011 incident, it increased its dependence on other countries for fossil fuels, (see graph A and B) which in turn significantly increased Japan’s CO2 emissions.

In response to these problems, the Japanese government implemented a Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) in 2012 to promote the production of renewable energy. It has been quite successful in doing so (see graph B); Japan currently ranks 3rd in the world in generating solar energy. Other renewable sources such as hydro, wind, and geothermal have also increased production but not on the same scale as solar because of the many regulations and legal procedures involved.

Japan’s 2030 target is to cement renewable energy’s status as a major energy source.

How does the FIT work?

The FIT requires electricity retailers to purchase electricity produced at a price and period set by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Although the system has increased the electricity bill for end-users, it has guaranteed the purchase of electricity and supported renewable electricity generators to be able to stand on their own feet. It is likely for the initiative will be removed in the near future once it is no longer needed.

Types of Renewable Energy Used in Japan

The total share of electricity currently generated by renewable energy sources in Japan is about 18%. Its main source of renewable energy is hydroelectricity. Other sources include solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal.

Hydroelectricity Solar Wind Biomass Geothermal
Hydroelectricity is commonly created by using a dam to regulate the flow of water out of a reservoir. The motion of water is used to turn the blades of a turbine in the dam to generate electricity. There are many small hydro plants located around Japan to facilitate this. Solar panels convert the light rays from the sun (photons) into electrons of electricity using photovoltaic cell technology. These electrons then flow into an inverter to convert the energy into a usable form. Japan is a leading manufacturer of PV. They are also known for building the first floating solar plant to overcome problems such as land scarcity. Wind power is generated when the wind blows and it slowly turns the turbine’s blades, which in turn spins a shaft that is connected to a generator to create electricity. Japan has plans to build more offshore and onshore wind turbines but needs to loosen restrictions on building such power plants in order to grow. Biomass power is generated when trees and plants absorb the sun’s energy through photosynthesis, and this energy is later released when organic matter such as plant waste or animal waste is burned or decomposed. The heat released is used to warm up water and create steam, the steam then turns a turbine to generate electricity. A benefit of using biomass is that it is carbon neutral. CO2 released is absorbed by plants during photosynthesis, and therefore, it is an attractive and growing source of power in Japan. Geothermal power is energy created by harnessing the heat that is being released from the earth’s core to heat water, create steam, and ultimately generate electricity. Japan has one of the largest geothermal reserves in the world. However, it is currently an underutilized source of energy due to many complications involved in the drilling of the reserves and negative impacts on hot springs.