Japan’s carbon emissions soared while Germany’s power plants and industries emitted no more carbon. (German power-sector emissions fell slightly in 2013: more solid fuel was burned but more efficiently, saving slightly more than electricity output rose.) To be sure, total German carbon emissions rose slightly in 2012 due to a cold winter, and in 2013 due to the record power exports that were coal-fueled because of a trifecta of spiking gas prices, cheap coal diverted from shrinking U.S. markets, and an overallocated European carbon-emissions market. But in the first quarter of 2014, German coal-burning and carbon emissions shrank again, as is expected to continue. Germany remains far ahead of meeting its Ky?to climate obligations—by far the most stringent in Europe.
In short, German policy gave renewables fair access to the grid, promoted competition, weakened monopolies, and helped citizens and communities own half of renewable capacity. In 2013, Germany’s nuclear generation reached a 30-year low while renewable generation, 56 percent greater, set a new record, reaching an average of 27 percent of domestic use in the first quarter of 2014 and a brief peak of 74 percent on 11 May.
Japan has 5 percent more land, 68 percent more people, 74 percent more GDP, and far more sun and wind than Germany, but through February 2014 had added only about one-fifth as much solar power as Germany, and almost no windpower. These produced just 0.97 percent of Japan’s 2012 electricity — one-third India’s share, or #29 worldwide — and 1.5 percent in 2013. Of the roughly 41 billion watts (95 percent solar) in Japan’s order pipeline, much remains lawfully stalled by utility red tape and intransigence.
More than the sacred sun on Japan’s flag, its leaders appear to worship old policies that retard wide use of the energy sources now taking over the global market. Since 2008, half the world’s added electric generating capacity has been renewable. Non-hydroelectric renewables, chiefly wind and solar, got a quarter-trillion dollars of private investment and added over 80 billion watts in each of the past three years. Three of the world’s top four economies — China, Japan, and Germany, as well as India — now produce more electricity from non-hydro renewables than from nuclear power. Japan is on that list only because its nuclear production is roughly zero; it remains the rich nations’ renewable laggard. Perhaps the unexpected May 2014 court decision that prohibited restart of the Oi reactors as unsafe, and for the first time prioritized public safety over utility profits, may signal an emergent change beyond the cosmetic reforms offered by the executive and legislative branches — 2016 “deregulation” in name only.
In 2012 and 2013, China made more electricity from wind than from the world’s most aggressive nuclear power program. In 2013, China added more solar power than its first developer, the United States, has installed in its whole history. But Japan is heading in the opposite direction: of the 8 GW of renewables brought into operation in the first 20 months after it introduced renewable FITs in July 2012, 97.5 percent was solar and only 1 percent windpower. Windpower (especially onshore where it’s cheapest) is stymied, first by uniquely slow and onerous approval processes and then by outright rejection by utility monopsonists who get to bar competitors from their regional grids. Japan’s windpower association projects the same market share in 2050 that Spain achieved three years ago.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Solar power displaces daytime peak that’s costly to generate, but the way the solar feed-in tariff works, it’s profitable for utilities. In contrast, they lose money on cheap windpower that also runs at night, displacing coal and nuclear. Japan’s latest rules reiterate utilities’ right to refuse renewable power that would displace such legacy “baseload” plants. Japanese business leaders may be upset to learn that their electricity, among the world’s costliest, is even costlier because their utilities run their own costlier thermal plants while rejecting windpower with nearly zero operating cost.
The electricity reforms passed in late 2013 by the lower house of the Diet (23 years after Germany’s reforms began) still let Japan’s utilities reject cheaper renewable power for any reason or no reason. Many claim renewables could harm grid stability. So why do Germany, with 25 percent renewable electricity in 2013, and Denmark, with at least 47 percent, have Europe’s most reliable electricity, about ten times more reliable than America’s? These countries, like three others in Europe (none very rich in hydropower) that used roughly half-renewable electricity in 2013 — Spain 45 percent, Scotland 46 percent, Portugal 58 oercent — simply require fair grid access and competition. Of all major industrial nations, only Japan doesn’t.
Germany also uses energy more efficiently. In each of the past three years, German electricity consumption fell while GDP grew. During 1991–2013, i.e. since reunification, German real GDP grew 33 percent using 4 percent less primary energy and 2 percent less electricity, and emitting 21 percent less carbon. Even more ambitious savings are available and planned.
In contrast, Japan’s world-leading energy efficiency gains in the 1970s later stagnated. Japanese industry has continued to improve, and remains among the most efficient of 11 major industrial nations, but Japan ranks tenth in industrial cogeneration and commercial building efficiency, eighth in truck efficiency, and next-to-last (tied with the U.S.) in car efficiency. Yet Japan’s sky-high energy prices make energy efficiency very profitable, most of all in buildings. Semiconductor company Rohm’s office opposite Ky?to Station, for example, cut its energy use 46 percent and repaid its cost in two years. With a few exceptions, like the T?ky? Metropolitan Government’s efficiency efforts, few Japanese buildings have received the kind of kaizen (continuous improvement) that has long distinguished Japanese industry.
To revitalize its economy and politics, Japan needs an efficiency-and-renewables leapfrog that enables the new energy economy, not protects the old one. Japanese frogs jump too, says Bash?’s famous haiku “The old pond / frog jumps in / plop.” But we’re still waiting for the plop.
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