Japan’s REvision2017

This year’s edition of the Japan Renewable Energy Institute’s ‘REvision’ conference, REvision2017 was held on 8 March in the Iino Hall in Tokyo. This is the sixth edition of the gathering which was instituted by Japanese billionaire Mayasoshi Son’s Institute, originally called the Japanese Renewable Energy Foundation which was established following the Fukushima disaster and nuclear accident in March 2011.

The conference, attended by more than 600 members of the public, primarily from a business background, featured such luminaries as Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute; Toshiyuki Shiga, Vice Chairman, Nissan Motor / Chairman and CEO, Innovation Network Corporation of Japan; and speakers from ENGIE, IRENA, IKEA Japan, NREL, The World Future Council, The Climate Group; and Li Junfeng of CREIA and head of China’s National Center for Climate Strategy and International Cooperation. GWEC’s Steve Sawyer spoke in the ‘Global Renewables Development’ session. 

The public event was preceded by a day-long ‘expert’s meeting’ where representatives of government and industry presented the Japanese situation to the international visitors.

The struggle over the future of Japan's nuclear power sector continues – there are now 3 reactors operating, and it seems likely that a few more will be restarted, but most of the aging fleet of 47 reactors which supplied about 30% of Japan’s electricity prior to Fukushima will stay off line.

Solar pv has done reasonably well, with about 25 GW installed since 2011, although that amounts to less than 1/3 of the projects that were approved within the guidelines of the introduction of the FIT in 2012; but even solar is now stalled. All other technologies have languished, mired in the bureaucracy and victim to the regressive policies of Japan’s nine vertically integrated utility monopolies, who continue to fight to maintain the status quo and thwart Japan’s desires to move towards a more modern electricity system.

Wind power annual installations have actually decreased since the introduction of the FIT, due to the utilities’ regressive connection policies and resistance to creating a real energy market in Japan, but primarily due to the onerous 4-year environmental impact assessment process which applies basically only to wind power projects.

Nevertheless, there are signs of hope for the medium term. Some sort of utility unbundling will take place at the end of this decade, which may provide the beginnings of the establishment of a real electricity market. Also, there are encouraging signs on the offshore front, as commercial scale projects are now beginning to get off the ground, centered around two large projects off the coast of Akita prefecture on the northwest coast of the main Japanese Island of Honshu, in the Tohuku region...but that is for 2023 and beyond.

The situation was most nicely summarized by Amory Lovins, who after listening to the detailed explanations of the situation from Japanese officials and industry representatives, suggested that it seems that “if Japan set out to construct an elaborate regulatory regime to obstruct the development of renewable energy and to make it as expensive as possible, the current system would fit the bill very nicely”.

There WILL be a shift in Japan, and when it happens it will be very swift, but when will it be? Not this year, nor next..but we wait and watch.

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