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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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Earth Day and ETP

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

 Did you know that today, April 22, 2010, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day?

Well, honestly, I did not know.  Actually, I was going to write a blog post on geothermal energy, but after doing some reading, I found some interesting information on the role Earth Day plays in energy, technology, and policy.  First, the New York Times discussed how Earth Day is becoming more commercialized .  Back in 1970, the first Earth Day was largely a nationwide protest against air pollution and water pollution, with activists marching in the streets and having teach-ins to raise public awareness of these issues.  Now, Earth Day is promoted by stores and big companies.  Stores are selling green themed toys for children and big name vendors are promoting products made from recycled materials.  The New York Times article mentions a New York City sightseeing company that is offering a special deal to visit gardens and flower markets, but still uses fossil fuels to run all of its buses.  So in some areas the green movement has degenerated into shameless self promotion.  Where once Earth Day stood as a kind of anti-consumerism movement, it has become more of an environmental consumerism movement.  This is not a failure, per se, but it is not exactly what the founders of Earth Day were after.

Another article by ABC News brings up the same issue of how Earth Day has changed over the decades.  One aspect that they bring up about outside endorsement of Earth Day is the increase in political activity for the environment.  The decade following the first Earth Day came with many strides in environmental action from the government.  The Environmental Protection Agency was created by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970.  Following that came the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972.  Several other legislative actions have been taken to protect the environment since the first Earth Day.  Now I would say that in spite of all the moaning and groaning over Earth Day endorsements, a government endorsement for the environment is certainly a plus.

This year for Earth Day, our favorite Obama administration is following suit and joining in the festivities as well.  Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, held an on-line chat, answering the peoples’ questions about what the Obama administration is doing to help the environment.  On discussing America’s current status with energy demand and climate issues, Chu said:

 “Today, we are driven by new challenges. America is deeply dependent on foreign oil. Our climate is changing as a result of our carbon emissions, and in order to mitigate the considerable risks of climate change, the world must transition to a sustainable energy future. This will require nothing short of a new industrial revolution. America’s future prosperity may well depend on whether we lead or follow in the new industrial revolution.”

Chu also cited Vice President Biden’s speech on the Recovery Act.  In particular, Biden spoke of the “Retrofit Ramp-Up” awards.  The Retrofit Ramp-Up program assigned $452 million to 25 communities to retrofit old buildings and make them more energy efficient.  An estimated $100 million annually will be saved in utility bills by improving these communities along with the generation of over 30,000 jobs for people to work on the retrofitting.  In addition to the money saved, the government is also expecting to learn valuable lesson on how to implement and sustain energy efficient buildings.  One of the communities selected in the Retrofit Ramp-Up project is our very own Austin, TX, which will be given $10 million.

So, this Earth Day has certainly not been a lame one.  Even though things have changed from the original Earth Day back in 1970, major actions are still being taken by the people and by the government to improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, and protect the environment.  One last thing before I end.  I feel a little guilty not saying anything about geothermal energy, since that was going to be my original topic, and no one has written a blog post yet on geothermal.  So, here is a link to an interesting geothermal site that also talks about Earth Day.  Enjoy!

Image Reference:  http://collegecandy.com/2009/04/21/pour-one-for-your-homie-mother-earth/

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