“Ring of Fire” countries – what should we/they do?

If you take a look at the world population distribution[1], you will find that the majority of the most densely populated area/countries are located around the Pacific “ring of fire.” Because of the geological locations on the Pacific “ring of fire,” countries sit on these tectonically active plate conjunctions have less chance to form steady sedimentary basins, thus to form oil and gas for heir energy use. After reading about the renewable electricity generation in California from EIA’s Today in Energy on February 6th[2], I started to wonder on HOW, as a Pacific islander, we can possibly learn from California’s renewable policy. How can we develop our renewable energy protofolio? How can we improve our energy usage and efficiency to balance the economic development and energy security? What can we do to avoid being threatened by the next oil crisis?

In my opinion, what we need to do is to create more energy sectors so we can be more flexible to different energy uses. For example, we need a car that can run by more than one fuels, such as gas, oil, and electricity.

First of all, I would like to use two countries – Japan and Philippines as an example and comparison because apparently the government policy affects those two countries’ current energy sector and development significantly. Here is the long-term energy supply and demand outlook in Japan (http://www.fepc.or.jp/english/energy_electricity/energy_policy/sw_index_01/index.html )[3]. Japan depends on imports for 82% of its primary energy supply if nuclear energy is included in domestic energy so Japan’s energy supply structure is extremely vulnerable[4]. After suffering from two oil crises in the 1970s, Japanese government decied to diversify its energy source through increasing use of nuclear energy, gas, and coal[4]. In Philippines, there is only one nuclear power plant in the entire country – the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. It was completed in 1973 but never fueled. The building of this nuclear power plant was in response to the 1973 oil crisis. President Ferdinand Marcos believed the nuclear power was the solution to decrease dependence on imported oil from unstable Middle East [4]. The construction started in 1976 but in 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the US stopped the construction because they found that the power plant was built near a major fault zone and was close to the Mt. Pinatubo, after the safety inquiry[4]. And in 1986, after the Chernobyl disaster, the succeeding administration of President Corazon Aquino decided not to operate the plant[5]. Nowaday, this nuclear power plant has became a new ecotourism site [6].

What’s worth noticing is that Philippines still has the ability to produce some oil and gas for their own use whereas there is no such thing in Japan. After the tragic Fukushima event, people blamed about Japan building nuclear power plants on high risk earthquake zones [6] and ignoring the safety issues but these were really the accumulation of historic reasons and never-fair resource distribution in the world.

With the fast development of renewable energy in recent years and with lacking certain resource in one or another country, I start to wonder if there is a possibility to reconstruct geopolitical map on renewable energy resource and development in the world while we are waiting for the paradigm shift from potential and new technology. Can Japan learn from California and use more geothermal and wind energy and solar to balance their heavy dependence on oil/gas and nuclear? I believe the answer is yes.

Actually Japan has already increased wind power capacity from 136 MW at 2000 to 2,304 MW in 2010 [8]. However, this is not enough and there is a slowdown due to the extreme weather pattern, the lack of stable legal system, grid constraints and stagnant economy [8]. Although Japan ranked 3rd for its geothermal potential in the world but the development seems absent and slow. This is due to cultural reverence for hot springs and lacking of government incentives [9].

No single energy is perfect and enough for world’s population growth and development nowadays. What can be done to solve one country’s energy issue is not necessarily suitable for solving another country’s. I think what needs to be done in every single country now is that the government of all countries needs to evaluate the potential traditional and renewable resources, considering cultural and regional differences, encouraging renewable’s R&D developemnt, putting tax on carbon and incentives on renewables while still keeping the dialogue on environmental impact and economic growth. This is a global issue and we need to work togeher, learning technology from each other to solve the problem that we create and face today.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population

[2]http://205.254.135.7/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=4870

[3]http://www.fepc.or.jp/english/energy_electricity/energy_policy/sw_index_01/index.html

[4]http://www.fepc.or.jp/english/energy_electricity/supply_situation/index.html

[5]http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/index.html?http://www10.antenna.nl/wise/499-500/4935.html

[6]http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/travelnews/2012/01/photogalleries/120105-nuclear-resort-philippines-power-plant/

[7]http://www.350resources.org.uk/2011/03/19/global-nuclear-power-stations-world-wide-map/

[8]http://www.gwec.net/index.php?id=123

[9]http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/05/japans-geothermal-resources-gets-a-closer-look

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1 Comment

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One response to ““Ring of Fire” countries – what should we/they do?

  1. jones1808

    I don’t believe solar is a viable replacement for nuclear power in Japan. The nation used over 1,100,000 GWh of electricity in 2008 according to the EIA, with a quarter of that (275,000 GWh) coming from nuclear power. Serpa Solar Plant in Portugal generates 20GWh annually from the ‘world’s most powerful solar plant’ on a size of 0.6 square kilometers. Given this as a starting point, you would need 13,750 of these plants, covering 8,250 square kilometers, or 2% of Japan’s total land area. This also assumes Japan is just as sunny as Portugal, of which I am doubtful.

    Wind turbines actually survived the earthquake in Japan, and are being looked at as a replacement for lost nuclear power. Diversification is a solid plan to reduce overall risk, but there are only so many high-wind places to build them. The Japan Wind Power Association puts their goal at 10% of 2008 electricity demand (100,000 GWh/yr) by 2050, that is a long ways off and still short of a solid answer. I think they will stay with some nuclear out of necessity, but have you come across any proposals for how they could make a transition?

    http://www.eia.gov/iea/overview.html
    http://sabolscience.blogspot.com/2011/03/japans-nuclear-power-vs-united-states.html (for the EIA graph)

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