Even with an increased green power obligation on utilities, the new renewables goal, if confirmed, amounts to just 1.63% of total electricity generation by 2010, up from the previous target of 1.35%. Somewhat conversely, given the intention to raise the target, METI's 2007 budget proposal, unveiled in December, cuts money for renewable energy sources by 10% to JPY 140.8 billion ($1.17 billion), while increasing funding for "a nuclear Japan" by 5.5% over the same period to JPY 177 billion ($1.47 billion).
Haruhiko Ando of METI's New and Renewable Energy Division acknowledges the target increase is modest. "The utilities wanted electricity supply from renewables kept flat, and seen from their perspective, that's understandable," says Ando. "But after long discussion, we managed to convince them of renewables' importance and they have come around to co-operating." If true, that is good news for the wind industry, which sees the utilities as the biggest barrier to more wind power in Japan.
But not everyone is as sanguine as Ando. Iida says in reality there is no change in utility resistance. "Renewables are not cost-competitive, they claim," says Iida. He says utilities claim that even the 12.2 TWh current obligation by 2010 will cost JPY 100 billion ($830 million). "But our estimate is that with the average cost of renewable credits costing JPY 5/kWh ($0.0415/kWh), the cost is at most JPY 50 billion ($415.2 million)," he says.
The national outlook for wind in Japan is "depressing," Iida says. For development to take off, more transmission capacity is needed, government must relax rigid regulation of the flow of power across the grid, and utilities must accept more wind power without also demanding it be accompanied by battery backup. Japanese utilities say that wind's variable supply destabilises the grid, a claim lacking any technical basis, says Iida.
Tokyo bright spot
Still there is one bright light for wind prospectors. Tokyo, with a population of 12.5 million, already sources 2.7% of its energy from renewables. Last April, the Tokyo metropolitan authority upstaged central government, declaring it will ramp up use of renewables to 20% of total energy supply by 2020. In addition, it announced a JPY 50 billion ($415.2 million) budget for renewables, with payouts beginning this autumn and extending over five to ten years with the possibility of renewal should things go well. Immediate implementation is planned mainly for solar, but a wind power committee was established last month to begin research into offshore projects. There are also plans to use green certificates to finance wind farms supplying the Tokyo grid, says Iida, who sits on the planning board of the new initiative.
Moreover, Tokyo's renewable energy masterminds hope to begin challenging restrictions against feeding wind generated electricity into the grid. The strategy, says Iida, is to contract wind power from far flung areas currently kept at bay by utilities. If the corporations balk, Tokyo's bosses plan to argue their case in committee, gradually eroding resistance, he says.