Expert’s Pick: Fukushima leading Japan’s energy transition

Fukushima, a prefecture in north-east Japan notorious for the terrible nuclear accident that occurred there in March 2011, is planning to power its electricity with 100% renewable energy by 2040. As noted in the British newspaper The Guardian’s article Fukushima unveils plans to become renewable energy hub’, 40% of power in Fukushima is currently supplied by renewable energy.

Fukushima’s 100% renewable energy target will make this region a leader within Japan. In Japan as a whole, renewables currently account for 17.4% of the country’s energy mix – a level “well below countries in Europe,” according to the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies.

According to the article, Fukushima’s plans are set to cost 300 billion yen, or USD 2.75 billion, and “will involve the construction of 11 solar and 10 wind farms on abandoned farmland and in mountainous areas.”

The US Energy Information Administration reports that Japan is “third-biggest importer of coal after India and China.” According to our Community Manager Vibhushree Hamirwasia, who coordinated our 2019 Asia and the Pacific Renewable Energy Status Report, “the Asia-Pacific region is an important region to decarbonise. Demand is outpacing supply in the region, and many countries are relying heavily on fossil fuels to supply that demand rather than renewable energy.”

REN21’s latest Regional Status Report covers 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Hamirwasia continues, “discussions about Asia tend to be dominated by India and China, but Japan is the third-largest country in the Asia and the Pacific region in terms of renewable energy development. Therefore, it can be a good model for other similar-sized countries in the region.”

After the 2011 nuclear disaster, local sentiment against nuclear remains strong in Fukushima, where residents lives were, and continue to be, marked by health risks and clean-up measures. This contrasts with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s view who supports nuclear expansion.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sees nuclear as a solution for decarbonisation and Japan’s economy. Picture credit courtesy of Les Echos.

As The Guardian article states, “Abe insists nuclear energy will help Japan achieve its carbon dioxide emissions targets and reduce its dependence on imported gas and oil, but his recently appointed environment minister, Shinjiro Koizumi, has called for the country’s nuclear reactors to be scrapped to prevent a repeat of the Fukushima disaster.”

Hamirwasia says, “From an external perspective, this public conflict between Prime Minister Abe and the new environment minister Koizumi is healthy. This type of debate will encourage Japan to confront questions about its energy mix and what’s good for its economy. The fact that there is someone to counter Abe’s pro-nuclear attitude, as well as the Fukushima prefecture calling for ambitious renewable targets is a strong testament to growing support in Japan for renewables.”

Hamirwasia believes in the power of local and sub-national governments to lead in the energy transition: “Just as we showed with the cities report, it’s not always national governments that are pushing toward stronger targets and stronger ambition. Oftentimes subnational governments, when backed by public support, lead with the boldest action first. Fukushima is a great example of that.”