Energy Mix in Japan

Japan relies on oil for more than 40% of its TPES (Total Primary Energy Supply), but nearly 40% of its electricity is from coal. In this table, nuclear is very small since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has at least temporarily forced a shut-down of the nuclear power industry in Japan. Power generation per capita is below the IEA average (9.9 MWh) at 8 MWh. TPES per capita is also below the IEA average (4.5 toe) at 3.4 toe (tonnes of oil equivalent).

In March 2011, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused the reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station to fail. As a result, the surrounding area was permanently contaminated and rendered uninhabitable for ‘human-scale eternity’, and an unknown but large quantity of radionuclides escaped to contaminate the sea. This stimulated governments around the world to reassess their energy policies, to mixed results. What did Japan itself do?

In 2009, at the COP15 (15th Conference of the Parties – UNFCCC – UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), Japan made a pledge to reduce GHGs by 25% over 1990 by 2020. Their plan was to increase nuclear power generation from 30% to 50% of electricity production.

Fukushima sent this plan into reverse – for safety reasons, all nuclear reactors were gradually shut down and all reactors were off-line by 2013. The shortfall of 30% electricity generating capacity had to be made up by importing more fossil fuel – at the time quite expensive. Primarily LNG (liquefied natural gas), followed by oil and coal.

By the end of 2013, Japan was 94% reliant on imported energy (up from 80% in 2010). CO2 emissions went up by 25% to 110Mt. Electricity prices rose by 16% (domestic) and 25% (industry).

However, pressure to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy capacities also resulted.

Strategic Energy Plan 2014
In April 2014, the Japanese government adopted the fourth Strategic Energy Plan. METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) prepared the “Long-Term Energy Supply and Demand Outlook”, in force July 2015, covering the period 2015-2030. This plan addresses climate change objectives through a 2030 mix which foresees a decline in fossil fuels, some nuclear still, and increases in renewable energy. The SEP attempts to balance the ‘three Es’: energy security, economic efficiency, and environmental protection.

Japan’s nationally determined contribution (INDC) for COP21 (Paris 30.11 – 12.12.15) was to reduce GHG emissions by 26% from 2013 to 2030. In May 2016, it adopted the Global Warming Countermeasures Plan, which foresees an 80% reduction (over 1990) in GHG emissions by 2050.

Through the 2016 National Energy and Environment Strategy for Technological Innovation towards 2050 (NESTI 2050), Japan is promoting energy technology innovation. By April 2020, the transmission and distribution segment of the electric power companies will be legally unbundled from the generation and retail segments. This is significant in that vested interests have been a major obstacle to the progress of transition policies.

There has been a marked favouritism in renewable energy development for solar, in particular PV (photovoltaic), and relatively little in the way of wind power generation. Japan has run a FIT (feed-in tariff) to subsidise renewable energy development since July 2012. PV now has more than 32 GW capacity. The flexibility of the power system needs to be upgraded to match this rapid improvement in generating capacity. Other renewables have not experienced similar levels of development. Current projections put R.E. at 22-24% of electricity generation by 2030.

The high costs of the FIT and other R.E. support policies are subject to annual reviews. An auction system or large solar PV projects is planned to start in April 2017. Measures to promote wind and geothermal are also being introduced in 2017. A simplification of environmental impact assessments will allow more large-scale R.E. (specifically windfarms) to be more easily passed.

A major hurdle to R.E. adoption in Japan is grid integration. The division of the distribution system to more or less independently managed geographical areas is a disincentive to traditional energy suppliers to encourage citizen-energy development. They do not wish to lose their monopoly control.