Japan has a long history of efficiency in its energy policies, dating back to 1947, when their current electric power laws were enacted. They are now using their technological know-how to discover ways to harness the energy of the wind and the sea.
Japan is a small country with a lack of natural energy resources, and the connection between economic growth and an efficient energy source has became critical. The Fukushima disaster has not only opened a wound in the psyche of the population, but added an urgency to the quest for a safer source of energy production. It has been the country’s policy, as described in the electric power laws developed in 1947, to allow local municipalities to receive a share of the profits from the electric companies. This policy spread the economic benefits received throughout the country, and was effective, but only to an extent. That same policy blocked the development of more aggressive energy development in many localities. Perhaps a sense of complacency overtook the populous, at least until the Tsunami of 2011.
The Tsunami and resulting Fukushima power plant disaster not only shook up the people of Japan, but the whole world, demonstrating the dangers that nuclear power can exhibit. The people of Japan know first-hand the devastating destructive forces behind nuclear energy, and now, it is on their collective minds, and a majority are now opposed to restarting the plants. But nuclear power is something that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been in favor of keeping. He has broken from the previous Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) commitment to phase out nuclear power by 2030, and instead said in early 2013 that the country would begin restarting its power plants as soon as new safety guidelines were in place. This urgency in getting the power plants online stemmed from the cost of imported crude oil and natural gas. The decision by Prime Minister Abe, regarding the nuclear power plants has created a great deal of opposition in Japan, and this has helped to strengthen the momentum in the search for safer sources of energy. Soon after the Fukushima disaster, Goldman Sachs said that it would invest as much as $487 million in Japanese fuel cell, solar, wind and biomass efforts. In the same vein, the Japanese government is now setting new renewable targets of between 25% and 35% of total power generation by 2030, Today, with nuclear power on hold, Japan has broadened the scope of its search, and alternative sources of power not given serious thought over the years, are being looked at with renewed interest. From hydroelectricity, geothermal energy, wind turbines and marine energy sources, they are all being studied. A floating marine wind turbine is being tested from 2011 to 2015 in the Goto Islands of Nagasaki Prefecture, according to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment. It is the world’s third test of a floating turbine, and so far, there have been favorable results in respect to efficiency, safety and maintenance. Sea and weather conditions have had favorable results, as well. The ministry is still doing environmental impact studies to aid in local community cooperation.
The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) is testing four types of ocean wave and tidal energy generators. This project started in 2011, and is expected to be finished in 2015. There are also two types of current and thermal generators being developed during this project. One of the projects under development, a moored fin current generator, will be tested in the Pacific Kuroshio Current. They are being jointly developed by IHI, Toshiba, the University of Tokyo, and the Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute.
While it is essential that Japan go forth in its search for an environmentally friendly and safe source of energy, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the public is fixated on the dangers of nuclear energy, and how to live without it. Government and environmental officials must relight the flame of public interest in using the natural resources they do have.