Ater what seemed like a potentially tumultuous time for Japan once the final nuclear reactor was shutdown just months ago, it seems the fledgling nuclear industry may once again be getting a restart, after conformation from the Japanese government to go ahead with the reopening of two reactors in the near future. Considering the fallout from Fukushima and intense protestation from the Japanese citizens towards any sign of rekindling the nuclear fire this is an important step forward in the debate.
It couldn’t come at a better time, as current supplies of fossil fuel based energy has been ramped up to over 90% from 60% before the shutdown to deal with the increased strain on the country, which of course leads to higher emissions and a greater risk to society as a whole, a reaction I figured would be the case from the moment of hearing about the nationwide closures. Coming into the hot Japanese summer was no doubt a primary factor in determining the restart of both plants, as an overuse of A/C and the need for cooling would have likely overloaded the grid periodically - not something a leading 1st world nation wants to be fronting during such critical times.
What is even more reassuring however is the news of a brand new feed in tariff directed towards Japanese renewable energy, with solar in particular, a sector which is booming globally, and set to really explode in Japan if given the right treatment, ala Germany or the UK. Whilst these FiTs are common ground to those who follow the solar debate, the Japanese have taken what is in my view an extremely risky and brash angle, which could bring them closer towards a solar dominated grid with popularity through the roof, or complete economic slump and a positive drive away from renewables as it stands.
They’ve done this choosing to set their price per KWh at a staggering $0.53, which is triple that of China’s and double the current UK rate, which is set to fall over the coming months. Through this astounding figure, which translates to how much money a consumer will be paid per unit of solar energy they produce, Japan hopes to blow all other solar markets out of the water, installing up to 20GW of solar alone by 2016.
This tariff also applies to wind, geothermal, biomass and more, all of which Japan is seemingly rushing into as the global markets pick up pace and fossil fuel support falls all around. Even wind FiTs beat German prices, currently some of the best in the world, and many of these tariffs guarantee set prices for 20 years, a much more ambitious projection than all other renewable European nations.
Personally I believe this is wonderful news to the highest degree, and to see a country which only recently shut its entire nuclear capacity down, an energy source to the tune of 30% of nationwide production, to then rapidly put in place such radical policies to promote renewables is signs of good things ahead. When many other countries are blaming a lack of solar, wind and biomass on a lack of space, unfavourable conditions and poor public support, Japan is flying in the face of such issues; the nation is comparably small, highly mountainous, densely populated and a world leader in technology and economics, and they plough on like never before. Many nations should take note and learn, as Japan could be the next big green player.
However, before I get too excited and jump the gun, I would like to point out some potential problems, some of which could really derail this phenomenal move. Both of the big leaders in solar FiTs, Germany and the UK have both experienced the results of highly attractive and lucrative tariffs, set too high for the nations coffers to fund once installations shot up dramatically. Due to this, both have been forced to slash prices and guarantees in the face of public protest, in attempts to be able to continue paying the consumers who so gleefully latched onto the policy.
Now we see Japan setting prices at double the market rate, with 20 year warranties; is this not setting itself up for a huge fall if they calculated wrong and cannot continue funding the explosive growth as many analysts expect? Germany and the UK thought they had it sorted, and even though their sectors are still growing, solar installations have taken a wounding blow, one which will continue to bleed for a whole longer before the market reasserts itself.
If Japan doesn’t manage to control these tariffs, we could see problems in the solar market which could deliver a potentially fatal blow to FiT schemes around the world. When you’re dealing with such a fickle public as ourselves, the knowledge that two or three schemes failed to deliver their original promises could mean the end for something which is only just finding its feet.