August 20, 2019 Tue
Solar panels in Nodagawa

After the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and ensuing nuclear disaster at Fukushima, intense public scepticism in the safety of nuclear energy caused Japan shut down all of its nuclear reactors, resulting in an acute energy shortfall. The country scrambled to find alternatives to plug the gap, and in the short term costly gas and oil were used to sustain the electricity supply. However, the Japanese landscape has been slowly transforming, as the country tries to wean itself off unreliable and expensive fuel imports. The percentage of renewable energy produced in Japan remained flat at around 10% during the 90s and 2000s, but in recent years renewable energy production has begun to increase, reaching over 15% of production. The most visible sign of this is the proliferation of solar panels throughout the country. Japan is a world leader in photovoltaic panel technology, and after the government introduced a subsidy to encourage their installation, fields, houses and even convenience stores are now frequently covered in solar panels. As Japan aims to both diversify its energy supply and meet its climate change commitments, renewable energy plants will become an increasingly common sight in the years to come. Yet the visibility of the panels masks a murky energy policy, which in fact favours the reintroduction of nuclear energy in the coming years. Further, Japan lags behind many large economies in terms of renewable electricity generation, despite its large potential. The construction of ‘megafarms’ of solar panels - which sometimes involves cutting down large areas of pristine forest - has also been criticised by environmental campaigners. As the world’s fifth largest carbon emitter, Japan’s steps to a more sustainable future are much needed, but bolder leaps may be needed if the country wants to properly transform its energy future.

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