Japan agrees with ‘All of the Above’ Energy Policy

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

President Obama’s famous All of the Above energy policy released during his first term and perfected in his second term seems to have gained some attention and perhaps some followers around the world. The latest is Japan, which has decided to embrace more and different types of energy to replace the lost nuclear power capacity since the Fukushima incident.

Prior to the earthquake and tsunami of March 4th, 2011, Japan received 29% of its electricity from its nuclear reactor fleet. Subsequently, many of the country’s 54 nuclear power plants were shut down for inspection and stress testing, and some have been scheduled for complete decommissioning at a total cost of well over $100 billion dollars, but possibly approaching $1 trillion dollars over 50 years if the damaged reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant begin acting up and leaking even more than they have. Which could happen.

With almost 30% of their electricity production permanently unavailable or temporarily offline, the ever-industrious Japanese are looking to a better energy policy — one that will not leave them dependent on foreign politics, international trade disputes or shortages. Energy cost is a primary concern.

The good news is that Japan hopes to hit 20% of total electricity demand with renewable energy by 2030.

Japan’s energy choices include solar

Extensive research into solar utility-scale installations and rooftop solar for residential use in Japan have netted some amazing results. Japan ranks fourth among the nations with the most amount of solar capacity installed and continues a massive solar installation campaign. Some 10 Gigawatts of solar are being added to Japan’s grid this year.

Some farmers in Japan are finding that they can make more money with much less toil by turning their rice paddies into solar farms. In other cases, huge blocks of solar panels are mounted on floating pontoons in sheltered bays and lakes.

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Japan shows a clear preference for solar power, even as it experiments with other renewable energy such as wind, tidal, hydrogen and methane hydrate ice.

Wind energy in Japan

Wind energy is making strides in Japan and the future of that is under discussion. However, Japan feels a need to protect its tourism industry and does not want monstrous turbines cluttering up shoreline tourist areas. Nevertheless, the country is forging ahead with plans for the largest offshore wind farm on the planet in non-tourist regions of the country.

Tidal energy

Japan is a pioneer of tidal energy, with some locations producing power via underwater propellers anchored to the ocean floor via cables allowing them to be suspended in the water near the sea bottom safely away from ships hulls.

Undersea Methane Hydrates

Japan has sent ships to the Arctic ocean in recent years to mine methane hydrate crystals that line the sea floor for hundreds of miles in all directions. It turns out that just off Japan’s coast there is a gold mine of methane “ice” also known as clathrate (more specifically, clathrate hydrate) just sitting there waiting to be picked up. In fact, some successful prototype operations have been reliably producing power in Japan, using only locally-mined clathrate.

It is a clean burning fuel, as methane clathrate hydrate composition is (CH4)4(H2O)23, or 1 mole of methane for every 5.75 moles of water, corresponding to 13.4% methane by weight. There is nothing else to it. No sulfur, no nitrogen, no trace contaminants. Pure fuel mixed with water ice.

“Japan hopes that the test extraction is just the first step in an effort aimed at bringing the fuel into commercial production within the next six years. That’s a far faster timetable than most researchers have foreseen, even though there is wide agreement that the methane hydrates buried beneath the seafloor on continental shelves and under the Arctic permafrost are likely the world’s largest store of carbon-based fuel. The figure often cited, 700,000 trillion cubic feet of methane trapped in hydrates, is a staggering sum that would exceed the energy content of all oil, coal, and other natural gas reserves known on Earth.” – National Geographic

Hydrogen fuel for electrical power production and for vehicles

As a clean burning fuel, hydrogen shows great promise. The only catch with this fuel are the costs associated with splitting ocean water into its constituent molecules, which, after you filter out the salt and any contaminants is; 1 hydrogen atom + 2 oxygen atoms = 1 molecule of water. Using electrolysis to convert vast quantities of water into hydrogen takes a huge amount of electricity, which is fine if it can be had cheaply enough. With the advent of solar power gird-parity, hydrogen production suddenly looks attractive at a large scale.

“Now that Toyota Motor says it will release mass-production fuel-cell vehicles powered by hydrogen, Japan has set an even bigger goal of making hydrogen a main energy source for the nation’s electric utilities. The nation’s first “hydrogen energy white paper,” released Monday, calls on the country to become a “hydrogen economy” by adopting the fuel for utility power generation. The paper was produced by the government-affiliated New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.” – Wall Street Journal

We are at a unique period of human history where doors that were once solidly closed are now opening. Our energy future will be more diverse and cleaner for those nations and corporations that are open-minded enough to see the possibilities of clean and renewable energy.

Although there have been some failures in the business of renewable energy (as in any new field of endeavor) things renewable energy are starting to gain traction and acceptance not only by the public, but by policymakers around the world.

Japan, after initially reeling from the tsunami and Fukushima incident, has profoundly embraced solar and wind power and experimented with the promising tidal energy technology and has advanced clean burning energy solutions such as undersea methane hydrates and hydrogen fuel.

Certainly, fossil fuels have their place and they will be with us for some time to come. However, rather than tying ourselves to One Big Energy source (fossil fuels) an All of the Above approach may turn out to be the best, long-term solution after all.