The answer to Japan’s energy needs

One of the many things to worry about now that Japan is finally doing what we have been waiting for it to do (devaluing the yen and so pushing up the stock market at speed) is the effect the falling currency will have on the price of its energy imports.

With that in mind it is worth reading this report of a talk given by Stefan Larus Stafansson, the ambassador of Iceland to Japan, at the United Nations University Headquarters in Tokyo late last year.

In it he notes that geothermal has become the backbone of the Icelandic economy – some 66% of its energy comes from domestic geothermal sources (which must have been useful when the krona collapsed in 2008).

However, he also notes that Japan has the world’s third greatest geothermal potential (something that won’t surprise anyone who has ever been on an onsen trip in Japan) and that, were they to use it, the energy produced could replace 25 nuclear reactors.

Yet back in the late 1990s, Japan, under the LDP, made a decision to focus on nuclear power at the expense of all other types. The last geothermal plant in Japan was built in 1999, and all research support from the government was suspended in 2003.

Just as interesting is the fact that nearly all the geothermal turbines used in Iceland are made in Japan – the market is controlled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba and Fuji.

There is talk about new plants, including one in Fukushima itself, but things aren’t exactly moving very fast.

Perhaps the fall in the yen they have now orchestrated so brilliantly might focus the minds of the LDP a little more on Japan’s long term energy prices and their effect on the current account: last month’s trade deficit came in at yet another new record thanks almost entirely to rising energy costs

PS: Heating prices in Iceland are the lowest in northern Europe, thanks to the use of naturally hot water to heat homes. Iceland also uses its hot water to farm tropical fish.

  • Boris MacDonut

    Japan again. No comments again. No comment.

  • Steve P

    Boris Mac: incisive, intelligent and withering. Not.

  • Shell shocked

    But have you been to Iceland? No amount of cheap energy can make up for living there.

  • Kendo Nagasaki

    Is Boris peeved because he neglected to invest in Japan?

  • Poutine

    for the moment and for the century to come I’m quite sure, the response isn’t renewable energy but : gas and coal.

    That’s why Japan is relaunching its nuclear plants (less imports)

  • Colin Selig-Smith

    @5 Poutine

    Absolutely. The UK could take a lesson. A couple of dozen new breeder nuclear plants would do the UK’s productivity a world of good.

  • Lupulco

    @ 6. Colin Selig-Smith
    Yes but a] who is going to build them, c] finance them and c] run them?
    English Electric/ Parsons now part of Alsthom, part owned by the French Government
    Expertise of the CEGB gone to EDF, EON, RWE etc & ditto
    All the above want the UK Government to write of any losses, but at the same time let them make substantial profits.
    Is not Capitalism a great thing?

  • Engineer

    I would greatly prefer to see the japanese use geothermal technology rather than methane hydrate. I see that as a pandoras box. More methane released, more CO2 generated, more long term trouble for the atmosphere.

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