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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

JAPAN'S ENERGY CRISIS


I received a visit today from, left to right above, Aya Matsune of CORE (D.C.), Chihiro Terasawa of the Mitsubishi Research Institute and Yasuyuki Ikegami of Saga University (IOES lab to the left) to gain my insights into the future renewable energy opportunities for Japan.  They also wanted to know what Hawaii was doing about developing sustainable resources.

Our combined feelings were that Hawaii was ideal for expanding the use of these options--high energy costs, progressive leadership and availability of abundant natural resources--but mystifyingly, we are not doing much about it.  A lot of talk, but no meaningful action.

 Through the discussion, the following thoughts formed in my mind:

1.  Hawaii's renewable energy efforts are lagging because there is very little industry, a practically bankrupt state and a nation still in an economic slump.  However, our potential is limitless, while that of Japan is limited.  They have meager sunlight, marginal winds, mostly low temperature geothermal, no worthy biomass options on land and a paralyzed nuclear industry.  It is possible that in a very short while, the three remaining nuclear power facilities (54 total--which once provided 25% of the power-- still in operation will shut down), and, unless the local governments relent, the country will suffer this coming summer.

2.  Japan is not only limited, they are in real trouble:

    a.  The Fukushima earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster was as game-changing as were Hiroshima, Nagasaki and being on losing side of World War II.  The country needs to re-invent itself.

    b.  Their immediate concern is electricity, for consumers expect the lights to turn on now.  No doubt they will import in more oil ( and other liquid/gaseous fossil fuels, 50% of energy usage) and coal, but with a coming carbon tax, that will only exacerbate their precarious future.  Clearly, those resting nuclear powerplants will be restarted, as they have no other option.  However, as admirable as might be the crusade of Masayoshi Son (left) to promote solar, it will be difficult for the renewables to contribute much to their energy balance.  Perhaps he can be encouraged to consider the Blue Revolution for the long term future of the country.

    c.  Further, if solar and wind are priorities for Japan, these intermittent sources can only be accepted up to 20% of the total power.  As electricity is one third of all energy utilized, this means that these classical green technologies will only supply at most 10% of their needs.   What will they do about the 90%?

    d.  There is very little hope for electricity from the seas:

        1)  tidal power (not much)
        2)  current power (unknown)
        3)  wavepower (prone to destruction by storms, and, if you well protect it, the economics are ruined), and
        4)  ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC, any large plantship, say even 100 MW, will be too far away from Kyushu to cable the electricity)

My dire prediction is that the people of Japan will suffer from really hot summers (fans are okay, but not as cool as air conditioning) and very cold winters (heating will become extemely expensive), for even with global warming, snow covers much of Honshu today.  Industrial production will further lag for all this discomfort, spurring greater export of manufacturing.

In the long term, though, the ocean is Japan's future.  That is Shimizu's Green Float concept to the right.

There, too, is fusion, but that is 50 years away, at best.  The Blue Revolution powered by OTEC can add biofuels, hydrogen, ammonia, seafood, biopharmaceuticals, green chemicals and much more to their economy.  Maybe someday energy can be microwaved by bouncing the beam off a satellite.  Their lagging shipping industry can be resurrected by building grazing plantships, not only for OTEC, but perhaps too for floating windfarms.

Japan has the opportunity, thus, to take the leading role in something again:  the Blue Revolution.  They could become the primary partner for the Pacific International Ocean Station of Blue Revolution Hawaii.  They could start by identifying the ideal billionaire to help fund this marine equivalent of the International Space Station, which is being abandoned.  I suggested to the visiting group that the governments of Japan and the USA are just not progressive enough to undertake this mission.  A possible meeting is being considered for April 24 in Tokyo to discuss these prospects.

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The Dow Jones Industrials jumped 84 to 12,716, with all world stock markets also up.  However, Amazon.com sunk almost 8% on lower earnings.  The market went up, though, because good news are expected from Greece.  Gold increased $8/toz to $1744, with the WTI oil at $97/barrel and Brent Spot at $112/barrel.

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3 comments:

Guy@NELHA said...

I got to spend time with them today and they were very impressed with your vision, Pat! After seeing NELHA and the various ways the DSW is used including the LM/Makai OTEC Tower, various aquaculture, micro-algae, macro-algae, seawater A/C and desalination, they left convinced that OTEC is a key solution for certain parts of Japan. The $250M/year the Gov't of Japan spends just on paying the electric bills for the US military base can be replaced with an OTEC plant.

PLANET EARTH AND HUMANITY said...

I guess this is how monumental changes are made for Planet Earth and Humanity, in tiny, incremental steps. Did I tell you about my idea for an onsen hotel on Maui? (To be hinted at on Sunday.)

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