On Saturday, Japan will shut down the last of its 50 usable nuclear reactors, completely eliminating a power source that once supplied a third of the country's electricity. At a time when temperatures can reach as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the pressure to economize and spur a green energy revolution is high.
Since the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima last March, authorities have tightened safety standards and refrained from restarting reactors, mostly to conduct routine checks. To make up for the shortfall, utilities have ramped up oil and gas imports, which has also given the country its biggest annual trade deficit in history—costing over $100 million a day. But the Japanese realize that the economic and environmental costs of those resources are not sustainable, leading many decision makers to turn towards renewable energy options.
Looking to Germany, which raised renewable energy from 5 percent in 1990 to 20 percent by 2010, Japan is more than confident it can follow in the same footsteps. Of course, that transition won't happen overnight, so many believe the country will have no choice but to restart some of its nuclear reactors soon despite public fears and opposition.
Oil, coal and gas now account for 90 percent of energy generation in Japan, while hydropower accounts for about 8 percent and other renewables make up the remainder. Shutting down all of its plants increases oil demand by up to 4.5 million barrels a day at a price of roughly $100 million.
Renewable energy companies will be rushing to enter the market as those costs impact Japan. “Feed-in” tariffs, guaranteeing renewable energy producers a fixed price for their power, could boost renewable energy generation by 200 times over the next three years, according to Hiroshi Hamasaki, an energy expert at Fujitsu Research Institute.
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To help, the government has eased land restriction and regulations on renewable energy projects throughout the country. Last week, feed-in tariffs were approved, which should also spur investment in the sector. For the first time, renewable energy has more power than nuclear.
"Before, many companies were reluctant to move toward renewable energy because they were afraid of displeasing the utilities, but that has changed," Koichi Kitazawa, head of an independent commission investigating the Fukushima crisis and former president of the Science and Technology Agency, told the Huffington Post.
As an island isolated from neighboring countries, a complete shift to renewable energy is a lot more difficult. Son has proposed an Asian “super grid” that would link the country to Asia, pulling in massive wind power from the Gobi desert. But that will take years to develop. Despite the approaching green energy revolution in Japan, real change isn't expected to happen right away. Renewable energy will still only make up a small percentage of electricity demand over the next few years. But the energy mix in Japan, nonetheless, is about to rapidly change.