Where should Japan go?

Japan has few for not say any domestic energy resources and it is all but energy self-sufficient. These facts coupled with a technologically advanced economy that made it stood in 2011 as the third-largest economy in the world after China and the U.S., has made over the years that Japan became the third-largest oil consumer as well as the third-largest net importer of crude oil, and even more important the world’s largest importer of LNG and coal. [1] [2]

In 2008, Japan’s total primary energy consumption was just over 22 quadrillion BTU. Oil with 46% represents the most consumed energy resource. Then goes coal with 21%, which has decrease its participation towards both increasing natural gas (17%) and nuclear (11%). This last one does not give credit towards a Japan that is the third largest consumer of nuclear power in the world, after U.S. and France. Hydro represents only 3% and renewables account for a simple 1%. [1]

On March 11th 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and latter on a large tsunami hit Japan, generating chaos all over its land. Both killed thousands of Japanese’s, however no one would ever account in the numbers that they will kill one of the most important assets and players in the electric generation in Japan, it killed or it leave to vegetative state the nuclear power industry. The earthquake and tsunami resulted in the meltdown of Fukushima Daiichi plant and a year latter that all but one of Japan’s 54 commercial nuclear reactors were shut down with a foggy future of when they could be restarted. [3] [5]

For a country with a technologically advanced economy, it seems somehow ridiculous to have just 1% of renewable energy sources; however, renewables own performance made them not the best dependable source not only in Japan but mostly all around the world. Nevertheless, it seams that Japan will have to switch towards its renewable energy sources if it wants to keep its third position in the global economy and if it wants that their people don’t migrate to countries that will be more than willing to have them, like Australia, New Zealand or Canada. It seems that the government and companies already know this and are working on different projects to get ride of the dependence of foreign energy sources.

Related to wind, it seems that Japan has too much of the wrong sort of wind. Sometimes it is simply too powerful, as a consequence of typhoons, or is just simply not useful, as a consequence of the mountain terrain of Japan. However, engineers at Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), a large manufacturing company, are constructing a turbine that can withstand the first ones and also use the last ones. The secret for that is FHI’s downwind design, which differs from a traditional one in the location and setting of the blades. The location of the blades are behind both the nacelle and pole; thus allowing the rotor plane to be tilted so that it faces directly the useless winds that blowing up the hill. Additionally, this design is less temperamental in high winds, thus making it stand the normal typhoons of the area. [4]

An old source that is just coming to the energy sources game is geothermal. Hot springs or onsen have been in Japan since almost always up to the point that it is part of Japan’s traditional culture. According to geothermal industry promoters in Japan, “Japan sits on about 20,000 MW of geothermal energy, or the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactors, though not all of this could be developed”, but still is a huge amount that even cut to half of it would help a lot the country to continue leading the international markets. As with silver bullets, sometimes is out of your reach, in this case Japan face an important community that is against developing this source. Onsen owners and local communities argue the tapping of heated aquifers in volcanic Japan will drain the onsen dry, increase pollution and ruin a cherished form of relaxation, therefore plenty opposition is in place making the government have a bad time trying to overcome all the power lost from the vegetative or killed nuclear power industry. [5]

Japan future seems murky, however they have always been good at thinking out of the box and came with a good plan and idea or even more with new technologies. In times where they required the most, Japan would have to face cultural traditions, and geographical issues to overcome its energy problem, while they decide if its big robot and buddy (nuclear) should be decommissioned or should be reengineered to face the 21st century standards.

[1] http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=JA

[2] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/09/world/asia/japan-shutting-down-its-nuclear-power-industry.html?pagewanted=all

[4] http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/04/technology_monitor_2

[5] http://www.economist.com/node/21552207

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1 Comment

Filed under energy, Geoengineering

One response to “Where should Japan go?

  1. aealexander

    This was a very interesting read. Japan’s future does seem murky and unclear because of all the issues surrounding their energy consumption and resources. I wish that the article would go into a little more detail as to why the Fukushima plant failed and caused so much heartache.

    http://www.economist.com/node/21549095

    The systems at the nuclear plant failed partly to human error. The electricity and pumping systems failed to safeguard against a possible rupture and meltdown, and the fact that the guard walls for defense against tsunamis were only 14 meters high helped make the problem almost unavoidable.

    I am of the opinion that nuclear is still a great option for Japan as a nation. It is unfortunate that so many people were affected by this catastrophe, but the Fukushima nuclear plant was old, unsafe, and neglected. Maybe the Japanese can maximize their nuclear capabilities by locating their nuclear facilities on the other side island chain or up high in the mountains. Either way, this dark episode serves as a lesson for what not to do when building and operating a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power can be perfectly fine as long as people are thorough with their design and operation.

    Japan is also surrounded by the Pacific ocean. There could be a potentially huge amount of energy harvesting capabilities if the Japanese can engineer the right systems. But, in the end, it will be a combination of many different systems that will help Japan become energy independent. Once again, the Japanese are very industrious and intelligent, and they will figure out something in order to function as an industrial society.

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