Renewable Energy and Reconstruction of the Disaster Stricken Area
Two years and two months have passed since the March 11 earthquake in the northeast area of Japan or Tohoku. Simply “restoring” the area back to its former state before disaster struck is not sufficient. Reconstruction efforts need to be comprehensive and aim to tackle problems that beset the area even before the disaster, such as aging population and declining industry activities. The nuclear disaster after the earthquake offered an opportunity to also review at the energy policy of Japan, which has consistently increased its dependency on nuclear power after the World War II.
Under these circumstances, it is hoped that tapping onto renewable energy sources in the region, such as solar power, wind power and hydraulic power, could lead to increased energy self-sufficiency, prevent global warming, and perhaps even promote local industries.
Tohoku region with its abundant nature has high potential in renewable energy development. Aomori prefecture and Akita prefecture come in first and fifth respectively for having the most numbers of windmills in the whole country, evidence that they there are the forerunners in wind power generation. In addition, northeastern Japan is also an important rice-producing area in the country. Drawing on its agricultural heritage, Akita prefecture is starting to develop small hydraulic power generation systems along their irrigation channels used in farming.
More than 70 percent of the Tohoku region, an equivalent of 4.7 million hectares, is occupied by forest. The local lumbering and timber industry produces about 530 thousand tons of timber off cuts annually which could be a potential source of raw materials for woody biomass. In fact, some think tanks have proposed that forestry should be positioned as a key industry in the reconstruction efforts as it can create many jobs.
The feed-in tariff system started in July in 2012 aims to increase the use of renewable energy in Japan. Feed-in tariff refers to the amount paid by government to businesses, individual households and other organizations to generate renewable energy and the system includes other requirements such as the obligatory purchase of renewable electricity by electric power companies. Also, Special Reconstruction Act enforced in December in 2011 aims to accelerate reconstruction in the disaster-stricken areas by encouraging the local governments to develop their own plans to suit the needs and characteristics of the local communities. The act thus opens a window of opportunity for the local administrations to consider their energy security needs.
With the support from new policies and reconstruction assistance given, the private sector has begun to take on the new challenges to develop renewable energy systems. In this monthly report, we will include an article on “Green Cycle Project – Developing a sustainable forest industry and effective utilization of woody biomass”, a project Miyagi prefecture implemented as part of the Mid–to Long–Term Reconstruction Support Projects, which started in the summer of 2012.
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