Japanâs long-term decarbonization strategy falls short on several counts, including setting solar and renewable energy goals and phasing out use of fossil fuels, according to some energy and environmental organizations.
Released publicly on June 11 in advance of Japan hosting a meeting of G-20 energy ministers in mid-June in the city of Karuizawa on the topic âEnergy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growthâ and the annual G-20 Summit in Osaka in late June, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a plan that calls for Japan to reduce its net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero âas early as possible in the second half of this century.â âAction against climate changeÂ is not a cost to the economy but a growth strategy toward the future,â Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated. âWe will create a virtuous cycle and lead the paradigm shift of the worldâs climate policy.â
The governmentâs long-term decarbonization strategy envisions solar, wind and other distributed, renewable energy resources playing the central role in Japanâs clean energy transition, but the plan isnât ambitious, or far-reaching, enough, some say. Coal-fired power plants will continue operating and Japan will reboot nuclear power generation, for instance, according to the plan.
, a senior researcher with the Renewable Energy Instituteâs (REI) Climate Change Group, told Solar Magazine.
I feel a big gap between Japan and the [rest of the] world, which is moving towards a decarbonized society, planning to phase out coal-fired power by 2030 and putting energy efficiency improvement and renewable energy at the core of their climate actions. The [governmentâs] LTS (Long-Term Strategy] does not mention strengthening measures by 2030, and it does not include ambitious targets for introducing renewable energy or reviewing overseas export support for coal-fired thermal power, which has been criticized internationally.
An energy strategy proposal leading to a decarbonized Japan
Furthermore, Japanâs decarbonization strategy emphasizes âdisruptive innovation,â which, Okubo explained, âis often used as an excuse to avoid the implementation of reduction measures by technologies that can be used immediately, and promotes the [use of] CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration), CCU (Carbon Capture and Utilization), and hydrogen society,â Okubo said in an interview.
Japanâs REI was founded by Softbank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son in 2011 in the wake of the tsunami and destruction of Tokyo Electric Powerâs Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in order to establish âa society based on renewable energyâ and âto research, develop and advocate policies, measure and financial/business models that are based on the dynamics of markets and society.â
REI on April 15 released the English version of its âProposal for Energy Strategy Toward a Decarbonized SocietyâAchieving a Carbon-Neutral Japan by 2050.â âWe have released our report now so that many Japanese stakeholders can have a clearer idea towards decarbonization and can use it as a reference when they submit their comments to the government proposal. Internationally, I hope it helps to understand where Japan as G20 presidency is situated now on climate and energy policy,â Okubo explained.
The Long-Term Strategy to be formulated by the government should be centered around energy efficiency and renewable energy expansion in order to enable significant reduction in domestic CO2 emissions through to 2030 and forging a path to zero net emissions by 2050.
âFrom this point of view, Renewable Energy Instituteâs proposal raises particularly important issues, together with accompanying data, around the topic of electricity generated from renewable energy, coal-fired power, CCS and hydrogen evaluation, industry, buildings, and traffic measures.â
Energy and Japanâs Long-Term Strategy for Decarbonization
The advisory panel report the Japanese government used as the basis for formulating its Long-Term Strategy was guided and informed by the intention of realizing Japanâs commitment as a party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting the rise in mean global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Its recommendations span the Japanese economy and society.
In addition to decarbonizing energy, the report outlined plans to decarbonize Japanese industry and manufacturing, including the steel industryâs goal to achieve âzero-carbon steel,â as well as a âwell-to-wheel zero emissionsâ policy for the automotive sector. The panel also included phasing out the use of coal for power generation, but that recommendation was dropped during Cabinet negotiations after meeting stiff resistance from industry interests, according to a news report.
Japan will continue to rely on coal-fired and nuclear power generation even as it works to realize the governmentâs long-term decarbonization goals, however. Notable as an example of âdisruptive innovation,â the Long-Term Strategy calls for maximizing use of hydrogen in order to reduce dependence on nuclear power to the lowest level possible, as well as developing advanced technology to improve power generation efficiency.
âOf the 54 reactors operating prior to the Fukushima nuclear accident, 21 have either already been decided to decommission or their decommission is being considered,â REI highlights in the reportâs executive summary. âAlthough nine reactors have recommenced operation, eight have not even applied for the screening process required to restart. Given these circumstances, the target of 20â22% appears infeasible, and realizing a level even half this will be difficult.â
In addition, several major fossil-fuel projects have been canceled in Japan during the past few years. A total of 15 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired power generation is either under construction or under consideration, however, according to the Kiko Networkâs Japan Coal Plant Tracker. Japan would effectively âlock in enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions long into the futureâ were those projects to come to fruition, Kiko Network President Mie Asaoka said.
The balance of government and political power regarding energy in Japan âis still inclined toward conventional energy sources, but itâs no longer unified. That change of balance will accelerate as the cost of renewables decline and the share of renewable energy increases,â Okubo said.
Wholesale decarbonization in Japan
Japanâs stance on decarbonizing energy, its economy and society will not be seen as a serious one by the international community if Japan continues to rely on coal for one-quarter of its power generation capacity by 2030, emphasizes the realization of a hydrogen society and doesnât raise its renewable energy targets, according to Okubo.
There are more and more Japanese companies, local government and others that would like to procure renewable energy. Such actors are starting to join international initiatives, such as SBT, RE100 and also domestic initiatives such as the Japan Climate Initiative, RE-Users and expressing their willingness to act. REI supports such initiatives as a secretariat.
REIâs proposed path to decarbonization in Japan spans its economy and society, zooming in on the issues associated with decarbonization of five major economic sectors. The development of a circular economy fueled by zero- or low-carbon energy in which waste and resource use are minimized plays a central role in all of them, as does the institution of carbon pricing.
- Basic materials
- Industry and Manufacturing
REI points out that Japanâs 2030 CO2 reduction targets for the industrial sector are only 6.5%, for example. âThis low figure stands out compared to the targets for commercial (40%), residential (39%) and transport (28%). Although Japanâs industry achieved an approximate 35% improvement in energy efficiency from the 1970s through to the mid-1980s, improvements in manufacturing efficiency have stalled during the 30-year period from the latter 1980s. One pointed example of the room for improvement is that noted by the METI committeeâthat degradation of the insulation used with boiler pipes and other fittings is costing Japanâs manufacturing industry more than 10% in unneeded energy consumptionâa significant loss,â according to the report.
Switching industrial processes from coal to natural gas power presents another significant opportunity for Japan to realize GHG emissions reductions. âJapanâs coal consumption has approximately doubled, from just under 13 million tons in 1995 to 25 million tons in 2016. GHG emissions could be reduced simply by switching the fuel used from coal to natural gas,â REI adds.
Similarly, Japanâs buildings stand out as being energy inefficient in international comparisons. Just 8% of Japanâs residences meet the current energy conservation standards, REI highlights.
Furthermore, 35%âan extremely high rateâare uninsulated, with no insulative material utilized in the walls, floors, or ceilings. For non-residential buildings, more than 90% of large and mid-sized buildings meet the current energy standards when they are newly built. However, the standards in question are equivalent to those set 20 years ago, and target figures are considerably lenient.
Energy conservation standards and compliance mechanisms required to realize net-zero emissions buildings are needed across the building sector by 2050, REI says. âIn their present state, most current buildings will not satisfy [the] energy efficiency level required in 2050. Renovations must be steadily implemented on an extremely large volume of building stock with poor energy performance by 2050. Mandate disclosure of building energy performance should also be implemented, including for existing buildings,â according to REI.
The outlook for solar energy and decarbonization
Turning to the outlook for solar energy in Japan, REI believes itâs likely that Japan will achieve the governmentâs target of 64 GW of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity 10 years ahead of schedule, by 2020 as opposed to 2030. National solar PV capacity reached 55.5 GW in Japan as of year-end 2018. One of Japanâs largest solar energy consultants, RTS Corp.Â has forecast that Japan could install some 150 GW of solar PV capacity by 2030, REI notes.
Looking ahead, the costs of solar power generation for systems exceeding 1-megawatt (MW) will fall to 6.4 yen/kWh in 2025 and 5.3 yen in 2030 , RTS forecasts. Bloomberg NEF has forecast that solar power will be cheaper than natural gas power in the early 2020s and cheaper than coal-fired power generation by the middle of the decade, REI points out. RTS also expects that onshore wind power generation will be cheaper than gas in the first half of the decade.
Asked if she and REI believe Japan will enact more ambitious solar and renewable energy goals and a long-term decarbonization strategy, Okubo said: âIt has to and I believe it will. The question is the speed. What is lacking in Japan is the sense of urgency.â