After Fukushima, Japan Vows to Boost Renewables

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In the wake of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged to boost renewable energy to at least 20 percent of its consumption in the next decade. This would double the share of renewable electricity in Japan, which gets most of its electricity from nuclear, coal, and oil. Nuclear power had supplied 30 percent of Japan’s electricity, and before the nuclear disaster, the country had planned to build more nuclear plants to boost that share to 50 percent.

“We will do everything we can to make renewable energy our base form of power, overcoming hurdles of technology and cost,” Kan said at a G8 meeting in France. In another speech in France, to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Kan also questioned ongoing growth of energy consumption: “we must ask ourselves … whether it is appropriate for society to increase energy consumption without any limits.”

Kan was expected to announce a new “Sunrise Plan” that would make it compulsory by 2030 for all new buildings to include solar panels. Japan’s richest man, telecoms mogul Masayoshi Son, also threw his weight behind renewables, announcing plans to build 10 large solar power plants and a partnership with local officials from around the country to launch a “Natural Energy Council.”

Alternative Federal Fleet

The federal government’s vehicle fleet should be cleaned up, a memorandum from President Obama ordered. The memo directs federal agencies to switch to purchasing only “alternative fueled” passenger cars and light-duty trucks by 2015. The “alternative fuel” category would include electric vehicles and hybrids, as well as those powered by biofuels or compressed natural gas. To kickstart the switch, a pilot project is purchasing more than 100 electric vehicles.

To help consumers understand their cars’ fuel costs and environmental impacts, fuel efficiency labels have gotten an overhaul. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called the change “the most dramatic overhaul to fuel economy labels since the program began more than 30 years ago.” The new labels are not as simple as those proposed last year by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, which would have given letter grades to cars.

Meanwhile, richer countries—such as the U.S., Germany and Japan—have reached “peak travel,” according to a new study, with miles traveled per person flattening off in recent years.

China’s Blackouts

In China, now the world’s biggest consumer of electricity, power companies are cutting their production. They are balking at government regulations that are raising the price of coal, while keeping the price of electricity down—policies that the companies say are threatening to push them into bankruptcy. The State Grid, the country’s largest electricity distributor, warned that this summer blackouts could be the worst since the early 1990s.

With power shortages already, Chinese stocks fell on concerns the country would not be able to keep up its high rates of growth. Nonetheless, China widened its lead as the most attractive place to invest in renewable energy, according to consultancy Ernst & Young LLC.

Globally, more money is pouring into renewable energy—but according to a new survey, some investors fear a green bubble may be forming.

Shale Gas Redemption?

A study last month by Cornell University researchers estimated power plants burning natural gas from fracking shale formations cause more global warming than burning coal.  A new assessment from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory rebuts the Cornell study, finding that, watt for watt, such “unconventional” natural gas contributes only about half as much to global warming as does coal.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.