United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Japan - Floating to a Clean Energy Future


A country struck by disaster harnesses the power of ocean winds to set sail for a brighter, greener future

Nearly 16,000 people were killed when a 9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami that crashed into the east coast of Japan five years ago. The 30 foot wall of cold, black water wiped out entire towns and villages and triggered one of the world's worst nuclear disasters.

The nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant forced the government to take all 48 of the country's nuclear reactors offline. At a stroke, Japan lost 30 per cent of its electricity generation.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami has had long lasting impacts on Japan's energy generation, forcing the country to re-think the future of its energy supply.

Ironically, the ocean that destroyed the Fukushima reactor may also provide the answer to the country's energy problems.

In June 2014, Japan unveiled the first offshore floating wind turbine in Asia. In another sign of the innovation taking place in the country, a Japanese company is also building what will be the largest floating solar installation in the world.

In May this year, countries will meet in Nairobi for UNEA 2 - the world's de facto 'Parliament for the Environment' - to discuss how the United Nations Environment Programme can help countries to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency is vital not only to achieving the goals of Paris, but also those of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Finding innovative ways of supplying off-grid energy to rural populations is vital to providing access to clean, affordable energy for all ? a key objective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Asia's first offshore floating wind turbine is part of an experimental project commissioned by the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry. The world's first floating power substation was installed near the two-megawatt floating turbine. With no domestic fossil fuel reserves and a significant offshore wind resource, the Japanese Government wants to make floating offshore wind technology viable by 2018.

As part of the country's plan to harness its solar energy resources, Japanese electronics and ceramics manufacturer Kyocera has also announced that it is beginning work on what will be the world's largest floating solar installation. Comprised of two large floating solar arrays, the 2.9 megawatt project is the first part of Kyocera's plan to develop around 30 floating two-megawatt power plants.

Kyocera's efforts are part of a broader expansion of the country's solar potential that has been ongoing since the 1990s. Consequently, solar photovoltaics have taken off across Japan in the past few years with new government incentives in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Japan will have 100 gigawatts of solar power generation capacity by 2030 according to recent estimates, and floating projects could play a significant role in this rapid growth. In just two years after the country launched a feed-in tariff, more than 11 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity have been installed across Japan. Of that total, more than 10 GW came from solar energy projects. In 2014, Japan had approved 72 gigawatts of renewable energy projects, with solar representing 96 per cent of the approved capacity, a significant step to a clean energy future.

While the solar and wind power are visible signs of Japan's transformation to clean energy, it is the country's energy efficiency that is the unsung hero. In the aftermath of the tsunami and the shutdown of nuclear capacity, Japan's population braced for blackouts. With few immediate options, the Government and the people turned to energy efficiency through a public campaign called setsuden, which means 'power saving'.

Some of the measures were simple and social, such as relaxed dress standards at work. Others were technical, including switching off high-demand loads such as air-conditioners for short periods of time when grid demand was high.

The campaign worked well in the short term, but efforts have also been made to make energy efficiency a long-term solution to the country's power demand. In 2014, Japan has managed to replace half its missing nuclear power capacity through energy efficiency, providing the world with a key lesson: coping with rapid loss of generation capacity requires fast, nimble and modular solutions fit for the 21st century. That means efficiency and clean energy.

About UNEA

In May, hundreds of key decision makers, businesses and representatives of intergovernmental organizations and civil society will gather in Nairobi for UNEA-2 at the United Nations Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi.

The assembly will be one of the first major meetings since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement. The resolutions passed at UNEA-2 will set the stage for early action on implementing the 2030 Agenda, and drive the world towards a better, more just future.

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