Saturday, January 12, 2008

Just do it

This story has has surprisingly little coverage IMO, considering how significant it could be:
"The [Japanese] government will aim for 30 percent of all households to have solar panels installed by 2030"
That's 40 million people. Japan is already one of the world-leaders in this area, at about 1% household coverage. 30% is a lot. Japan is blessed with a lot of sun, but is otherwise short of energy resources. Their nuclear power industry is large but the climate for that isn't great, so the country is heavily reliant on imported oil and likely to remain so for some time. We are also right at the limit of generation capacity here, with official Govt advice (eg on air-con use) aimed at cutting peak demand in the summer. So obviously promoting solar power could brings substantial benefits both in energy security, and avoiding new power station construction. Of course the massive cash injection into research will also cement Japan's position as the world's leading producer. I'm not sure if I've written it before, but I've long thought that one of the best reasons for increased investment in renewable technology is to get at the forefront of the technological advances. It hardly takes a genius to see which way the wind is blowing on this in the medium term.

IMO spinning this policy as primarily a global-warming issue is probably as much political convenience as hard reality. The Japanese happily pay massively inflated food prices on the grounds of food security (probably that's got a lot to do with buying the support of the agricultural sector), so it is hard to see them objecting at support for energy security too, if it was presented in those terms. But doing something about emissions certainly makes you one of the "good guys" internationally.

Either way, I hope it's the sort of action that people at all positions in the spectrum can agree is a good thing. OK, maybe hard-line libertarians could argue that the Govt spending taxpayers' money is less efficient than the private sector doing it by themselves. But compared to (say) wasting trillions of dollars on an unwinnable war in the Middle East in the vain hope of securing a couple more decades of affordable oil, it's hard to argue that the Japanese approach to energy policy is worse!


C W Magee said...

The Japanese nuclear industry would probably have a better reputation if they didn't set off fission reactions outside of the reactors by accident.

But I was windering, what is the state of wind and hydro there? And do any of the volcanoes provide geothermal?

James Annan said...

The last straw was building the country's largest reactor right on top of a major fault (which they lied about), insufficiently strong to resist the earthquake that happened last summer.

Mr Google found me this interesting report, which has all the numbers you could possibly want buried within (although perhaps not in the most accessible manner). The summary seems to be that there is a lot of hydro (10%ish), but the other renewables are currently pretty insignificant on the national scale.

ICE said...

I wonder how much of that official "cutting down emissions" spirit nowadays rely on the increasing price of fossil fuels and energy; that is, wether we'd have any climate policy at all (we have very little actually :-)) if energy prices were staying as low as they used to be ?

Hank Roberts said...

I know solar photovoltaic is more efficient when cooled, and that extracting heat for hot water is the simplest use of solar energy. I've asked before and been told nobody builds a combination panel.

I know prebuilt roofing panels are available -- but only structure plus waterproofing, nothing with heat or energy collection built in.

Japan's seemed to me the place someone's most likely to put this all together, to sell a structural roofing panel that can go right onto the house framing and provide the insulation, heat collection and transfer, and waterproofing topped by photovoltaics.

Maybe it's impossibly complicated, but I sure see more potential for failure when each layer is being nailed on individually by a different carpenter or installer, one after the other.

> largest reactor right on top of
> a major fault (which they
> lied about) ...

Nobody seems to have taken the studies of risk perception, gambling addiction, and the failure with age to perceive payback as the brain starts to fail after age 50 or 60, and correlated that with the behavior of top management and government in infrastructure decisions. I wonder why not.

Hey, casinos, fission plants, they're all fun for the whole family. Build then everywhere.

James Annan said...


I think by far the biggest issue is still production costs - if these come down (even at the cost of lower efficiency) then perhaps including solar in integrated roofing panels would be more attractive.


It seems to me that we have a great opportunity here while oil prices are high and before the tar sands and even more coal comes into play. While people are quite happily burning oil at $100/barrel it is hard to argue that renewables are far too expensive. Even with current technology and take-up, solar is borderline competitive in Japan.