Where are Japan's Energy Market and GHG Emissions Headed?

June 2012
The End of Over Reliance on Nuclear Power

March 2011's Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster destroyed the Japanese government's vision of a future energy supply system relying primarily on nuclear power. Even before the disaster, resistance by local residents meant that construction of nuclear power plants lagged far behind government projections, and the rate of capacity utilisation remained well below the worldwide average. However, the Fukushima nuclear disaster made the Japanese people more aware than ever of nuclear energy's risks. As a result, it is unlikely that Japan will continue to rely too much on nuclear power.

The End of Over Reliance on Nuclear Power

In response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese government has indicated that it will announce a groundbreaking new strategy for energy and the environment over the summer. Sometime soon, it is to offer the Japanese people a choice of strategy options, based on the outcomes of discussions between experts on committees set up by various governmental ministries and agencies.

The public debate could hardly be described as lively when it comes to climate change measures such as reduction of GHG emissions, or the creation of low-carbon societies. Yet, minimising societies' carbon emissions has become increasingly important, from the environmental point of view and from the perspective of economic competitiveness. Irrespective of any international policy framework to mitigate climate change, the world is starting to move towards lower carbon ("green") economies. However, success in international competition among green economies requires first and foremost that domestic markets are fully developed. Even if, for example, a country adopts large-scale introduction renewable energy, relying on overseas manufacturers for production of solar photovoltaic panels and wind turbines will simply result in the same outflow of its wealth as importing fossil fuels. That is another reason why it is essential for Japan's public and private sectors to join forces and take the initiative to make Japan's society a low-carbon one.

IGES Stirs the Debate

Since last summer IGES has been conducting research on Japan's long-term energy and CO2 emissions scenarios using a techno-economic energy system analysis model. Its final report(*1) was released at the beginning of June. The research assumed an 80% CO2 emissions reduction in Japan between 1990 and 2050, comparing two potential energy policy scenarios to establish their relative implications for the country's long-term energy market. The first scenario assumed that Japan would increase its use of nuclear power as advocated in the pre-Fukushima 2010 Basic Energy Plan, while the second scenario assumed the gradual phase-out of Japan's nuclear capacity by 2050. The research outcomes indicated that, in order to achieve significant reductions in CO2 emissions without relying on nuclear power, it would be necessary not only to exploit sources of renewable energy to the maximum degree currently envisaged by experts, but also to adopt Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies to a greater extent than previously envisaged. The research also indicated that, whilst it is economically feasible to achieve substantial reductions in CO2 emissions using these technologies for lowcarbon energy supply, it will be more important than ever to reduce the carbon impact of economic activities through accompanying changes in lifestyle and economic structure. Consequently, we need to abandon the idea that we can create a low-carbon society by simply continuing to pursue the existing model of economic growth.

I hope that, through this research, IGES can stir the debate surrounding development of a post-Fukushima energy and environment policy.

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