I recently wrote about Alternative Energy Vehicles (AEV) being developed by Japanese automobile manufacturers. Following the success of Toyota’s Prius hybrid, the goal is to create plug in vehicles that would be completely electric. If these vehicles become commonplace in Japan they’ll significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from automobiles.
Unfortunately this will also increase the demand for electricity generation from the country’s power plants which predominantly use fossil fuels. Without a concomitant move to alternate energy by Japan’s utilities, the centralization of power generation will not be the revolutionary change it appears to be.
So what is Japan doing now and what are the options for a country which imports 80% of it energy needs ? The first alternative is Nuclear Energy which Japan currently relies on for about a third of its energy needs. Concern about the safety of nuclear plants has increased the scrutiny of new projects but does not seem to be sufficient to prevent a ramp up of nuclear power plants. An English website by Japan’s nuclear industry can be found here.
Home to 10% if the world’s volcanoes, Japan could also look to Geothermal Energy to meet the increased demands of its transportation system. Geothermal plants have been in operation for decades but new construction has stalled due to concern over their impact in national parks and onsen communities where the sites are invariably located. According to this site for children Japan is generating
Hydroelectric Power is another natural alternative for a mountainous country like Japan. Unfortunately dams have already been built on almost every conceivable location due to their coincident benefit of providing public works money for rural municipalities and construction companies. The detrimental environmental impact of this effort is still being calculated and it cannot be scaled up to meet future energy needs.
Another potential solution is Solar Energy where Japan has had some success with photovoltaic cells. Unlike in the US where the availability of water for large solar plants is becoming an issue, Japan’s development of photovoltaic cells is only limited by its low energy efficiency and cost performance in comparison to other forms of large scale generation.
Wind Power has been utilized through on and offshore windmills but has a somewhat difficult problem to overcome in that the 10 utilities in Japan do not operate on a common grid. This means that excess power must be stored by the operator raising costs and making the ventures unprofitable to build on a larger scale. Here’s an article from last year that discusses the problem.
As would be expected in Japan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry coordinates efforts in developing new technologies in this area through an organization called NEDO. They provide very detailed publication such as this one on Energy and Environment Technologies which discusses work on all forms of alternative energy including biomass and wave power.