Why Is Japan Not a Leader in Renewables?

I came across some news story about Japan becoming a net importer of oil products again and that got me thinking. Given their technology and innovation fame how come they're not in the lead on renewables adoption? The reasons are probably complex and I'd love to hear some of them. Okay, they don't have the land for solar but they have the coast for wind energy, for example.

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1 minute ago, Marina Schwarz said:

I came across some news story about Japan becoming a net importer of oil products again and that got me thinking. Given their technology and innovation fame how come they're not in the lead on renewables adoption? The reasons are probably complex and I'd love to hear some of them. Okay, they don't have the land for solar but they have the coast for wind energy, for example.

Don't have any idea about macro / tech considerations, but I just returned from a trip to Asia - offshore wind will be very big in Japan. Serious investors are expecting it to be way bigger than Taiwan in offshore wind. 

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On a more serious note - I understand they were banking on Nuclear until Fukushima. They are apparently very green - have transited many of their coal fired powerplants to biomass. And are building new biomass power-plant. 

A thought occured that earthquake risk mean that any offshore structure may need additional engineering... 

 

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Technically, Japan does have the land area. Small farmers rule the country - there is no 'one man one vote' the way things work in the US.

Japan is big in fishing villages. These days, it might be better for Japan to fish for plastic and carbon dioxide - build ships that harvest waste matter in the oceans and convert them to fuels. What it takes to move the needle in Japan is foreign pressure.

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The Japanese people seem to greatly appreciate the beauty of their land and may not wish to cover their small country with wind turbines or solar plants. LNG is relatively inexpensive and available from Australia. Oil from various sellers. Wind turbines far offshore may be acceptable to them. 

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Yes, offshore wind power was what I was thinking about, too. 

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We should not expect one country to become leader in all the fields. Japan is already role model for many countries and they have invented path breaking technologies and system that mostly drive the world. Most of the countries including great USA is his follower. Japan is now tired of inventing and enjoying the fruits of its prosperous economy in Luxury and Leisure. Its time for others to do something new in the re-new-ables . 

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On 2/4/2019 at 4:00 AM, Marina Schwarz said:

I came across some news story about Japan becoming a net importer of oil products again and that got me thinking. Given their technology and innovation fame how come they're not in the lead on renewables adoption? The reasons are probably complex and I'd love to hear some of them. Okay, they don't have the land for solar but they have the coast for wind energy, for example.

A net importer again? Japan has been importing a vast majority of their energy for decades.

Wind tech in areas can now produce $20 MW electricity setting a new bar nat gas, coal, nuke and hydro cannot compete with. However location, location is critical. The piece of wind pie grows every year with advancing tech. 

Texas has huge nat gas reserves, infrastructure, local expertise, and a pro FF communiy yet wind has wrung out a 18% market share as of 2017. Why? It’s windy and wind tech finally improved enough to become viable. 

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That was just oil products, I gathered, the "net importer again" news.

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On 2/4/2019 at 3:00 AM, Marina Schwarz said:

I came across some news story about Japan becoming a net importer of oil products again and that got me thinking. Given their technology and innovation fame how come they're not in the lead on renewables adoption? The reasons are probably complex and I'd love to hear some of them. Okay, they don't have the land for solar but they have the coast for wind energy, for example.

The Japanese are very innovative and creative and on top of all kinds of techs from health to energy. They are relying very heavily on NATGAS/LNG. They also have massive reserves of methane hydrates. Japan is heavily invested around the world for all kinds of natural resources. They know the value of renewable energy and its limitations. They do not get on the "rush" to "green" energy mindlessly as others do.

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On 2/4/2019 at 4:24 AM, Rasmus Jorgensen said:

On a more serious note - I understand they were banking on Nuclear until Fukushima. They are apparently very green - have transited many of their coal fired powerplants to biomass. And are building new biomass power-plant. 

A thought occured that earthquake risk mean that any offshore structure may need additional engineering... 

 

I agree with Rasmus about how Japan lost its Green credentials. They were heavily into nuclear.

But while windmills may suffer structural damage in an earthquake, they don't melt down and release harmful radiation.

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I've worked for a Japanese corporation for more than thirty years and been to Japan probably 50 times over those three decades.  I don't know much about Japan's energy philosophy but from my experience with my colleagues I can tell you that culturally, Japanese are extremely conservative and go to great lengths to avoid risk or the unknown.  They will not adopt a technology until it is fully vetted and proven.  The Fukushima disaster shook the foundation of the Japanese energy complex and I believe they are still struggling the ways to compensate even today (I've heard that some nuclear reactors are or may be re-started). 

Japan's history with it's neighbors is dotted with wars and even today there remains a lot of acrimony with countries such as South Korea and China.  Nuclear power was probably seen as a way for the country to be energy independent, but now that option may not be viable.

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(edited)

16 hours ago, Lerxst1 said:

I've worked for a Japanese corporation for more than thirty years and been to Japan probably 50 times over those three decades.  I don't know much about Japan's energy philosophy but from my experience with my colleagues I can tell you that culturally, Japanese are extremely conservative and go to great lengths to avoid risk or the unknown.  They will not adopt a technology until it is fully vetted and proven.  The Fukushima disaster shook the foundation of the Japanese energy complex and I believe they are still struggling the ways to compensate even today (I've heard that some nuclear reactors are or may be re-started). 

Japan's history with it's neighbors is dotted with wars and even today there remains a lot of acrimony with countries such as South Korea and China.  Nuclear power was probably seen as a way for the country to be energy independent, but now that option may not be viable.

It looks like Japan is settling on my favorite. Natural gas https://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/Mozambique-LNG-Increasingly-Appealing-For-International-Players.html

Edited by ronwagn
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I believe the world is watching the UN with fascination and secretly laughing at anyone who goes all-in for green energy.  Look at the problems with Germany.  China recently said they will not build anymore green infrastructure unless it is more cost effective than coal.  Basically telling the world that global warming is a joke, at least the anthropogenic part.

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1 hour ago, Chris Wells said:

I believe the world is watching the UN with fascination and secretly laughing at anyone who goes all-in for green energy.  Look at the problems with Germany.  China recently said they will not build anymore green infrastructure unless it is more cost effective than coal.  Basically telling the world that global warming is a joke, at least the anthropogenic part.

Great info based on facts!
Dont forget what happened to Spain!!! in the late 90s going all green!

They got some Spain'ing to do to their folks!

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13 hours ago, Chris Wells said:

I believe the world is watching the UN with fascination and secretly laughing at anyone who goes all-in for green energy.  Look at the problems with Germany.  China recently said they will not build anymore green infrastructure unless it is more cost effective than coal.  Basically telling the world that global warming is a joke, at least the anthropogenic part.

What problems?

Haven't they got the Worlds biggest (or 2nd biggest) Balance of Trade Surplus. 

'Energiwende' doesn't appear to have done them too much harm 

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11 hours ago, ceo_energemsier said:

Great info based on facts!
Dont forget what happened to Spain!!! in the late 90s going all green!

They got some Spain'ing to do to their folks!

Meanwhile in the real World Spain's problems were actually caused by:

  • Lax fiscal policy generating a run away property boom (and subsequent crash)
  • Overvalued currency from joining the Euro and trashing exports
  • Prolific Government spending causing a ballooning of PSBR and then severe austerity measures in the middle of a recession to try and shore up the banking system. 

 

 

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On 2/10/2019 at 10:07 PM, NickW said:

Meanwhile in the real World Spain's problems were actually caused by:

  • Lax fiscal policy generating a run away property boom (and subsequent crash)
  • Overvalued currency from joining the Euro and trashing exports
  • Prolific Government spending causing a ballooning of PSBR and then severe austerity measures in the middle of a recession to try and shore up the banking system. 

 

 

Yes, real world problems do get in the way of the best laid plans....

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1 hour ago, mthebold said:

Floating offshore structures can be made immune to earthquake risk.  They're not attached to the ground, and waves are less intense further from shore.

As for nuclear, Japan is slowly restarting theirs because - big surprise here - the alternatives are expensive.  They'll continue using nuclear, esp. as they attempt to replace oil with H2/electric.  Nuclear won't pose the same risks going forward because:
1)  They learned their lesson about risk calculations (which is something the Dutch, with all their dikes, could have told them about...)
2)  Newer nuke designs have far better safety features.  The upcoming designs are "inherently safe", which means it's physically impossible for them to melt down. 

"Inherent safety" sounds like a far-fetched idea, but it's not.  Nuclear reactions are controlled entirely by the geometry of the fuel/moderator, which means the reactor can be designed to control itself.  It is, in fact, possible to design a reactor that shuts off when the fuel overheats*.  It's also possible to design a reactor with liquid fuel that automatically drains into safety tanks & solidifies in the event of an emergency.  Most importantly, it's possible to design a reactor that operates at atmospheric pressure.  That means that, even if you drop a bomb through it, radiation won't spread any further than the blast can carry it. 

Nuclear is an amazing option.  When we tire of acting like a pack of monkeys f***ing a football, we'll abandon renewables and return to the sensible option: nuclear. 

This isn't relevant, but my comment about self-regulating reactors reminded me of it, and the law of "I feel like it" demands I inflict it upon you as well: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LhntG_8PUs

 

*I believe it was Sandia National Labs that produced a test reactor to prove this concept.  They used springs to violently eject the control rods from a reactor operating at full power.  This resulted in... exactly nothing happening.  Research was then discontinued. 

It seems that cost is the main issue that has destroyed the future of nuclear plants in America. Countries that go with nuclear seem to be using multiple other sources of energy simultaneously. 

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27 minutes ago, ronwagn said:

It seems that cost is the main issue that has destroyed the future of nuclear plants in America. Countries that go with nuclear seem to be using multiple other sources of energy simultaneously. 

Hi Ron.  I remember @Jan van Eck dispelling the issue of expense as it applied/applies to the old technologies, as touched on in @mthebold's comments above.  Once again, we have a situation where HUGE interests (money!) are at stake, misinformation and information suppression are applied, and throw in some good safety failures for effect, and it takes us decades or even generations to move forward.  My bet is that we all would be shocked to learn how few people it has taken to defer safe nuclear energy until they, those individuals, are dead and gone.

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1 hour ago, Dan Warnick said:

Hi Ron.  I remember @Jan van Eck dispelling the issue of expense as it applied/applies to the old technologies, as touched on in @mthebold's comments above.  Once again, we have a situation where HUGE interests (money!) are at stake, misinformation and information suppression are applied, and throw in some good safety failures for effect, and it takes us decades or even generations to move forward.  My bet is that we all would be shocked to learn how few people it has taken to defer safe nuclear energy until they, those individuals, are dead and gone.

Meanwhile, I remember all the promises from Eisenhower on about how cheap and safe nuclear energy would be. That was back in the fifties. I have a lot of information that shows how that panned out. We are paying higher costs for nuclear energy than natural gas and other types of energy technologies. We have huge new state of the art plants that are now abandoned. Plants that were supposed to be closed and disposed of cannot be because the cost is too high so they keep them running at the expense of the customers. The nuclear waste was supposed to all be in Yucca Flats, Nevada by now but is still stored at the nuclear plants all over the USA. 

My nuclear topic: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Jp7yumkT6T1tEAdC4jb1K6LvO45rtoHwFbRcl08rrS4/edit

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1 hour ago, mthebold said:

 

The high cost of nuclear energy is a government debacle - not a private one.  When Eisenhower was in charge, the purpose of the Atomic Energy Commission was to promote nuclear energy.  When the AEC was transformed into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it's purpose shifted to controlling nuclear power.  For all practical purposes, the NRC was used as an obstacle to keep nuclear power in check. 

An example: nuclear reactors were designed to hold 5 years of spent fuel on site, the idea being that "spent" fuel could be - and in the rest of the world, was - reprocessed into new fuel.  Thanks to Jimmy Carter (who, quite frankly, was a well-intentioned fool - the worst kind of fool), reprocessing was made illegal.  Nuclear power plants now had to spend enormous sums storing nuclear "waste".  The NRC decided the solution for them: operators would pay a fee per kWh generated, and the NRC would handle spent fuel.  All of the fees were spent on Yucca Mountain, which was later cancelled by congress.  So now, after paying all the fees, nuclear operators are on the hook for developing and implementing an entirely different spent fuel storage technology.  This debacle hasn't been cheap, and it's but one of the reasons Eisenhower's dream never came to fruition. 

On that note, the existence of long-lived "waste" scares the hell out of the public, which adds to the already considerable political risk associated with nuclear power.  Again, there's no reason for this. We could have reprocessed it like the rest of the world and been done with it forever, but the government said no.

The same is true of meltdowns: Russia built an inherently unsafe power plant, it melted down, and the world lost their minds.  In the West, we don't build reactors that way.  There's zero risk of what happened at Chernobyl happening elsewhere - but the political risk remains. 

If we wanted to get into this, we could recite the litany of unnecessary costs nuclear power shoulders.  We could also cite the litany of promising nuclear technologies that were never implemented due to the political risk.  Eisenhower was correct; we just f***ed it up because we're morons. 

I certainly don't want to debate what could be done with nuclear energy with engineers. My hope is that natural gas can become the most used fuel for energy around the world. I believe it to be cheaper, as clean, and as desirable as any other form of energy. I believe it can eventually replace most diesel in large trucks, ships, industrial equipment, and in producing electricity. I realize that the staus quo will not change much until gasoline and diesel become more scarce and more expensive but I am one of the thousands working on it. Unfortunately, I don't get paid for it. 

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8 minutes ago, mthebold said:

That's a good option too.  It's all cheap enough; we just have to keep the government out of it.

Seriously though, game-changing nuclear tech is coming down the pipe.  We'll probably keep fossil fuels for heating & most transportation, but imagine running most of the maritime industry, mines, the electrical grid, military bases, warships, and a host of other applications on small nuclear.  It can happen. 

I know next to nothing about small nuclear plants running ships. It sounds great for icebreakers, submarines, and warships but I don't think that civilian ships need it given the LNG option. I am still concerned about dirty bombs and terrorists getting ahold of nuclear fuel. You probably disagree with my concerns. 

I have heard how great thorium plants would be but apparently, no country is working on them. 

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8 hours ago, ronwagn said:

I know next to nothing about small nuclear plants running ships. It sounds great for icebreakers, submarines, and warships but I don't think that civilian ships need it given the LNG option. I am still concerned about dirty bombs and terrorists getting ahold of nuclear fuel. You probably disagree with my concerns. 

I have heard how great thorium plants would be but apparently, no country is working on them. 

One particular advantage of nuclear over Gas is that the annual fuel requirement for a large PWR takes up the space of a double decker bus. Its easy to stockpile and its also very cheap to buy so from an energy security perspective a country can buy up years of fuel supply in advance. Not so easy to do this with Gas. Coal is easier because you can just dump it in a big pile notwithstanding environmental concerns 9fly blown particulates etc)

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