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Green power floods Japan grid as premium prices bite

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By Kyoko Hasegawa

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Japan's feed in tariff scheme encourages private companies to build environmentally-sound means of generating electricity by promising them a set price for electricity they generate, and requiring power companies to buy it at those prices.

It was introduced in July 2012, and has been much more successful than thought in terms of bringing about construction of renewable energy infrastructure (mainly solar, but also wind, biomass and geothermal).

Now, it looks like there is a risk that the government could renege on their promise to back renewable energy, with pressure from power utilities like TEPCO who would rather use fossil fuel- and nuclear-derived electricity.

Developing and selling renewable energy technology could be a boon to Japan's economy in the decades to come. Let's hope pressure from the power company lobby doesn't cause Japan to drop the ball on this growth opportunity.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

Developing and selling renewable energy technology could be a boon to Japan's economy in the decades to come.

Sensato san

I agree with you completely on this point. Instead of seeing renewables as some sort or obsticle, government and industry should realise the economic and research ( patients ) potentiial and go full steam on this one.

NOT waste money on the maglev rail plan.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Solar energy power facilities level of output must be limited to lowest period of consumption in daytime locally, as not effectively not to disrupt quality/safety of delivery from grid. Like all uncontrollable power source, it cannot be the main energy source. Understanding of a complex energy system needs engineering background anyway. Monopolies from companies controlled indirectly by politicians without other third party supervision are prone to conflict of interest.
4 ( +5 / -1 )

Any engineers here? I think the current grid cannot handle input from random locations in rural areas.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

“It sounds inconsistent that a power company says it plans to restart a nuclear plant on the one hand, and on the other says it does not want solar power because there is not enough demand” to soak up all the supply, said Hisayo Takada

Give that man a medal.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

I think the current grid cannot handle input from random locations in rural areas.

“That’s how a country like Spain has made such good use of renewable energy,” he said, adding 30% of its supply now came from renewables.

@proxy

What you say may be the case, but if Spain can make it work, Japan certainly can.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

The total amount of power entering the grid system from solar and other renewable energy is very small compared with the total amount generated and its bull that the grid system can't handle it or the fluctuations and is just another attempt to justify restarting the reactors.

Much like when they were saying we would all suffer black outs during the summer peak demand but never actually happened and this summer gone there were no power cut backs. The power demands never exceeded more than 90% of total power available, even without a single reactor working.

But there's ¥50 trillion of profits locked into the reactors so the power utilities will try everything to encourage the restarting of them.

The power utilities don't want to pay the feed in tariff rates which i think is still around ¥45/Kwh.

7 ( +13 / -6 )

For renewables to work, you need at least a stable base to offset the volatility in renewable outputs. For European nations, they could always buy from their neighbors but an island nation like Japan is a different matter.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

It's got nothing to do with capacity more a economic need to restart the dangerous nuclear plants that have been bleeding Japan dry.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Solar farms sprouted like weeds in north Chiba, all over the place here!

I have yet to hear a PROPER explanation of why they supposedly present a possible threat to grids...........so for some strange reason, cant put my finger on it, but I DONT trust the likes of tepco etc!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The total amount of power entering the grid system from solar and other renewable energy is very small compared with the total amount generated and its bull that the grid system can't handle it or the fluctuations and is just another attempt to justify restarting the reactors.

Yes, but it is being generated in certain parts of the grid, parts that were never really meant to handle generated electricity. Since the companies' are being forced to let the power in no matter what, if the supplied power exceeds the amount of power meant to go through that part, the equivalent of a circuit breaker will activate and part of the town will go black.

Much like when they were saying we would all suffer black outs during the summer peak demand but never actually happened and this summer gone there were no power cut backs. The power demands never exceeded more than 90% of total power available, even without a single reactor working.

That's because the Japanese determination to not start the power plants was greater than expected and they were able to voluntarily reduce power load sufficiently that there was no blackout.

BTW, AFAIK you don't need to actually hit 100% of the total power available to begin having problems with the quality (stability of voltage and frequency) of the supplied power.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

I have yet to hear a PROPER explanation of why they supposedly present a possible threat to grids...

Have you looked for one?

This isn't a uniquely Japanese problem. Hawaii is currently having the sane issue, as are Germany and Spain.

Solar and wind are intermittent power sources. They feed into the grid when they can. If it's night, or cloudy, or foggy, solar doesn't generate. Likewise if the wind is too low or too high, wind turbines don't work.

That leads to surges of electricity or drops in electricity being sent to the grid. The grid was never designed to handle that kind of fluctuating load - not here, not in Germany, not anywhere.

The grid here was designed to send power from generating stations to customers. We have been inserting random generating stations throughout the grid to throw in a megawatt whenever they can. This causes problems.

If there is a fog bank on the coast, solar isn't working. As soon as that fog lifts, solar comes online regardless of demand. That causes a surge in the system. Depending on the size of the surge, this can lead to a blackout.

If that fog bank rolls back in, it drops the power output - but demand remains the same. You can replicate that situation at home pretty easily - turn on all your kitchen appliances, hair dryer and vacuum. You do know where your breaker box is, right?

This situation is not unique to Japan, but Japan's problem is unique. The Germans and Spanish have the luxury of the European grid to balance loads. Hawaii is similar, but they have nowhere near the power needs of japan. Japan is currently testing large-scale batteries that will be a massive help, but they're still about a year out. In the meantime, the grid needs control upgrades. This is a real problem, not a tepco conspiracy.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

I have a friend whose father owns a solar panel business out here in Yamaguchi. He said they can't keep up with demand for solar panels and power companies especially, are eager to buy up watts produced by these panels.

Some of those with vested interests in the nuclear power facilities have been pushing for years to get reactors back online, with unreasonable and illogical reasons for doing so.

Japan is definitely not short on power and Germany is a prime example of how solar power works. To say Germany et-al is having a problem with it, is pure nonsense!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Germany is a prime example of how solar power works. To say Germany et-al is having a problem with it, is pure nonsense!

A simple google search shows otherwise:

http://mobile.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-05/europe-faces-green-power-curbs-after-fivefold-expansion-energy.html

http://mobile.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-25/windmills-overload-east-europe-s-grid-risking-blackout-energy

http://m.ibtimes.com/solar-power-growing-pains-how-will-hawaii-germany-cope-boom-alternative-energy-1518702

5 ( +6 / -1 )

As others have already pointed out, this is largely due to the powerful entities who have vested interests in the nuclear industry. They are clearly worried that their supply will continue to wane.

'Swamped with green power'? Reduce the nuclear supply. Not enough green power? Increase the nuclear supply.

Seems simple enough really.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Germany also has problems with their successful offshore wind power which is generating more power than expected and overloading the grid. They have developed a novel solution only Germans could think of: upgrade the grid.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

@craighicks

Actually, the uniquely German solution involved sending all the surge surplus to Poland, overwhelming their aging grid. No joke.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

So, according to these companies, who are of course just out for the consumers' needs, not for profit or anything, if we don't restart the NPPs they're risk of blackouts because we seriously need the power for peak seasons, and if they are 'forced' (and I love how they cry about having to pay for power!) to buy up the power created through green energy there'll be too much surplus energy and there'll be blackouts (but we still need the NPPs back on because there's not enough power!)?

I suppose next they'll be telling us all about how green energy is not safe and we have to rely on the more 'stable' NPPs, and I know the government will buy it.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

This is good move.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

A few years ago when hybrid vehicles were becoming numerous, there were questions raised about the lifespan and re-usability of their batteries. They seem to be lasting longer than most engineers expected, but I recall reading that when their capacity becomes degraded to the point that they are unsuitable for the vehicles, they could still be used to backup intermittent electricity sources such as solar. I envisioned mountains of ex-Prius batteries wired to the grid through giant inverters. I wonder what happened to that concept?? And BTW, I don't believe there is any real problem with the "quality" of the solar power that is fed into the grid since it all gets conditioned by electronics.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Good to see this movement on green power. The block is the power companies owning the distribution. If the distribution is opened up things will be resolved quicker. Denmark is doing a great job.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Wow, it's amazing to see how many people on this site don't understand how energy works. I learned about it in the 6th grade, and haven't forgotten since.

Energy isn't something that you can store up in large scales like you can a cell phone battery. They have to keep a current running through the whole grid constantly. This current has to be large enough to supply enough energy to fulfill the demand, but not so much that it will wreck the system. Current green technologies can't supply that.

Let's just say that solar is currently supplying 10% of the Japanese energy demand on paper. What that translates to is that solar is supplying more than 10% when it is available and 0% at night. How about all those dark hours? Fall is here and it's getting dark earlier. Do you want to start lighting candles again at night? Because that's what will happen if we start to rely too much solar energy without a way to store it. Wind is the same way. Energy can only be converted, and if there is no input to convert from, then there's no way to get usable energy.

If one of the geniuses on here can come up with a way to store some of the excess converted energy, other than "build a really big battery," then nuclear is the cheapest and, despite the Fukushima disaster, cleanest consistent source of energy that Japan has.

And finally, it's really easy to complain about a problem. The current generation of green technologies aren't the answer to our problems. They're a decent enough crutch, but they'll end up creating just as many problems as they fix (ie pollution from the chemicals used to manufacture solar panels, and available land space for wind turbines, grid overload, etc).

There are some interesting bleeding edge technologies for energy, but last I checked, they were at least 20 years out for production if they even get the green light.

TLDR: If you want to continue enjoying the type of lifestyle that you are used to, nuclear is the best currently available option Japan has.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Hitachi has developed technology to control the fluctuations on the grid when feeding in electricity from solar energy sources, so the utilities' claim is largely B.S. Where there is a will, there is a way.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

This is a distribution problem and if not fixed private companies will take over and/or you will have a hybrid system. At .26 kWh Japan's costs are fairly high and solar/wind can compete with that. In the US with kWh lower .08-14 kWh these new energy systems are not as competitive, however people are going their own way and it is the opposite of these power companies in that they are being forced to join the grid.

This is AC 3 phase (delta) power (3-4 lines). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-phase_electric_power

Power must be in phase and have a "power factor" close to 1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_factor

The batteries are the most apparent issue here and you do have homes in Japan that are going all DC utilize solar energy. Funny that the Tesla cars uses 18650 lithium cells.

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2014/03/20140325-honda.html < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QeI2TGmcG4#t=24>

-this type of home can help balance the energy grids.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Here is an idea, can we not nationalize the power companies so that we don't have this problem? Or would that be a conflict of interest?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Michael Grant

Hitachi has developed technology to control the fluctuations on the grid when feeding in electricity from solar energy sources, so the utilities' claim is largely B.S. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Are you talking about their Static VAR Compensator (SVC)?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My guess, my hope I should say, is that pretty soon we'll have a private network of grids offering electricity at increasingly competitive prices from which the users will be able to choose freely. Wouldn't that be a beautiful example to set for the rest of the world ?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Molten salt is used to make intermittent renewables predictable and reliable. Google it. No one renewable method is a panacea and will depend on local conditions. I'm glad the utilities are being called out on their BS. Japan can reduce its reliance on home heating fuels as well.

Distribution and production were split up in my neck of the woods here in Ontario, and in other places too. While it's a start, we still have aversion inertia from corporations not people. While renewables increase, utilities increasingly get in the way, not get on board. Only people who want to make a difference matter and in Japan case that can be towns and cities that help themselves. Toronto Hydro's Deep Lake Water Cooling was the result of local change, and not provincial involvement. That we remain the only city in Ontario with such a system speaks again to political footdragging and not about rational engaged feasibility. Deep Lake Water Cooling has been around since 2004 and celebrated 10 years of operation. 10 years of delay for everyone else. It's sad.

I have no doubt that if Japan can push the oyagi's out of the way, it could be really successful in all kinds of renewables. As an island nation surrounded by hydrothermal resources, its geothermal resources, and a public appetite for solar, the future of energy in Japan is quite positive. I hope it increases to the point that local utilities are created, busting the regional monopolies.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

“It sounds inconsistent that a power company says it plans to restart a nuclear plant on the one hand, and on the other says it does not want solar power because there is not enough demand” to soak up all the supply, said Hisayo Takada, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace.

Typical Greenpeace, totally neglecting to meantion that it is the unpredicatible nature of many renewables which is causing the problems. Hard to believe that Tanaka does not know about this, or the need for large-scale storage solutions for large-scale renewable rollouts.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@emcakira, I have been hearing the "20 years out" excuse for refraining from using green energy since 1980. That excuse is getting very old now, and is not really an excuse any longer.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@hokkaidoguy ... Actually, the uniquely German solution involved sending all the surge surplus to Poland, overwhelming their aging grid. No joke

Actually, the German solution is to move ahead and solve the problems as they arise. While foreign vested interests flood the internet with articles about the failure of Germany's plan, Canadian power producer Northland Power Inc. will snatch up an 85 percent equity stake in German power company RWE AG’s three Nordsee offshore wind projects.

http://www.law360.com/articles/573943/northland-nabs-85-stake-in-german-offshore-wind-farms

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@emcakira Totally agree.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Here in Utah, they are trying to "guilt trip" us into buying blocks of "green" power at premium prices. I see they have taken the logical "next step" in Japan. Now that we are going into Winter, daylight is going to be short and the days will be cool, meaning very little air conditioning. Meanwhile, after sunset, people will need power for lights, heaters, and electronic stuff. That power has to come from somewhere and it won't be the sun which is setting west of China. I do not envy the power grid engineers job which has to be quite the balancing act. Meanwhile, with all those volcanoes, has anyone tried tapping thermal power from the earth? It's currently working in Iceland, California, and Nevada.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The very source of so-called renewable energy is the sun, which is actually a gigantic fussion reactor. The sun could be unstable in many way. It will one day engulf the earth as it grows old. So, face the cruel world, pro-renewable boys and girls.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Jerome from Utah; Dude, lot's of geothermal in Utah in use right now. utahgeothermal dot com. Thus if you don't use solar for heating then solar is fine to run the pumping electronics. Brick in basements then is used to store heat energy. Anyway, geothermal works everywhere there is land, and in some places better than others. It's just not sexy, but if it pays the bills then go for it

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Jerome from Utah:

There are 23 geothermal plants in varying stages of completion around Japan, all if which hit the drawing board in 2011-12. The first one came online earlier this year down in Kumamoto. Not a lot of press for some reason, though.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Actually, the German solution is to move ahead and solve the problems as they arise.

A negative way to put "move ahead and solve problems as they arise" is "lack of prior planning" or "an ideological rather than rational approach to the issue". No doubt some companies are profiting (it's easy when your target is "solving problems as they arise", which forces them to accept solutions even if they have to pay more than is really fair), but it is the German population?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Kazuaki

With the benefit of hindsight, anything is possible.

The mistakes, or emerging requirements, regarding grid capacity are not due to "recyclable" energy itself, they are the results of human design or administrative decisions. I don't know the details, but I expect that if there was damage that it was not catastrophic. The worst case scenarios for wind and solar power are part of what makes them attractive. To prevent future problem, the grid should be upgraded.

It is the German population which pushed the German government to move forward on renewable energy. A conscious decision to pay more now, rather than worry about paying a higher price later - it is calculated foresight, not blind ideology.

The Germans may well change their policy in the future. But in the meantime, they have with sincerity explored and developed "renewable energy" technology. It will be able to serve as at least one part of their energy portfolio, and it will be one more technology to add to Germany's robust export portfolio.

If Germany does pick up Nuclear again, I expect they will go directly for state of the art safety - Nuclear with passive safety systems. (This is not to be confused with improperly named passive safety systems in current use, e.g. a water tank on top of a reactor which will need replenishing within 72 hours or less - with valves that need to be adjusted during an emergency where the reactor might be hard to approach)

An example of actual proposed passive safety feature: "a so-called freeze plug — an actively cooled barrier that melts in the event of a power failure, leading all nuclear material to automatically drain into a reinforced holding tank. It is claimed these reactors are “walk away safe". (Note: no improvement however in quantity of nuclear waste)

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/150551-the-500mw-molten-salt-nuclear-reactor-safe-half-the-price-of-light-water-and-shipped-to-order

Another example of supposedly safe power is "liquid fluoride thorium reactors" (LFTRs). Reportedly they operate at low pressure, and Thorium fuel is not in capable of metling down when left unattended. In addition, the amount of residual plutonium is claimed to be 1/3000 that of current nuclear energy, hugely reducing the costs of nuclear waste disposal.

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/143437-uranium-killed-the-thorium-star-but-now-its-time-for-round-two

0 ( +1 / -1 )

As far as I am concerned, the more 'green' the merrier. Bring it on and deal with it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

hokkaidoguy,

There are 23 geothermal plants in varying stages of completion around Japan, all if which hit the drawing board in 2011-12. The first one came online earlier this year down in Kumamoto. Not a lot of press for some reason, though.

Do you have any references for these plants? I have read about plans for plants, but apart from one at a Kyushu Onsen, generating a paltry 2MW, there is no solid information that I can find.

Ref: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/10701440/Japans-first-new-geothermal-power-plant-in-15-years-to-open-next-month.html

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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