Japan’s energy policy nine years after Fukushima

Solar panels are seen at a solar power facility as snow covered Mount Fuji is background in Nakai town, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, 1 March, 2016 (Reuters/Kato).

Author: Masahiro Sugiyama, University of Tokyo

On 11 March 2020, Japan marks the ninth anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The meltdown of the plant owned by the Tokyo Electric Power Company forced Japanese authorities to introduce many changes to Japan’s energy policy.

The electricity market was significantly deregulated in the wake of the accident. Retail deregulation in April 2016 led to consumer switching and new retail companies now have a market share of about 16 per cent. The ten local utilities will be unbundled and divested of monopoly control in April 2020. Renewables, most notably solar photovoltaics, greatly expanded due to generous support from the 2012 feed-in tariff scheme.

Still, there is a question about whether the shift has been fast and deep enough. Japan’s renewable penetration rate about 17% in 2018 is lower than that of the United Kingdom (33 per cent in 2018) and Germany (more than 40 per cent in 2019), economies of comparable size to Japan. Japan submitted its long-term climate pledge under the 2015 Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The announced goal is to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. But the plan does not include details on how this emissions reduction will be achieved.

Why is a country that experienced one of the most tragic energy disasters in history proceeding with its energy transition so slowly?

A significant problem with renewables in Japan is that they are expensive. In many parts of the world, renewable electricity is increasingly one of the …continue reading