Clean Power

Published on June 11th, 2012 | by Thomas Gerke


Japan: Ignorance and/or Dishonesty of “Energy Experts”

June 11th, 2012 by  


Since the tragic and ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant began, Japan has been plunged into an intense energy policy debate. Currently, the main focus is on the struggle about whether or not to restart two nuclear reactors at the Ōi Nuclear Power Plant, which has a combined capacity of 2.2 GW of electric power.

Those forces in favor of a nuclear comeback proclaim that there would be no alternative to a restart. According to them, reactivating two nuclear reactors is the only way to ensure the stability of the power grid in the Kansai region, Japan’s second-largest industrial area.

In order to convince the public, industry leaders and the government of this so-called existential necessity, the so-called “nuclear village” bombards the discussion with doomsday scenarios about how dangerous blackouts are – how they risk lives and the economy — as well as trying to reestablish the perception that nuclear power would be the cheapest form of electricity generation.

Considering that the so-called “nuclear village” of Japan finds itself in the unfamiliar situation of an uphill battle to regain trust and favorable public opinion, it is trying everything it can to change the odds in its favor once again.

Weapons of Disinformation

The most common item in this process of manipulating the public discussion in favor of a vested interest has been the publishing of studies and reports by private “scientific” institutes. These papers by so-called “energy experts” are disguised as objective scientific assessments of the current situation and future developments.

Studies and other papers published by these institutes might seem like quality work at first, but people with some background knowledge soon notice irritating errors and a strong bias in a certain direction. The so-called “energy experts” who write these papers are utilizing rather unsound methods of arranging selectively collected data and quotes from other studies (some of which were conducted in the same way) in order to reach a pre-determined conclusion.

I call these kinds of studies weapons of disinformation because their sole purpose is to convince the public and industrial and political leaders who might not have enough subject knowledge to notice the bias.

Example from Japan

While doing research on the energy debate in Japan, I stumbled upon a recent report by the “Institute of Energy and Economics, Japan.” The report is titled “Summary and Evaluation of Cost Calculation for Nuclear Power Generation by the “Cost Estimation and Review Committee” and was authored by Matsuo Yuhji, an economist and nuclear energy “expert” at the IEEJ. In it, he comments on the reevaluation of the cost of nuclear power and other forms of power generation by the Japanese government in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. At the end, he comes to the “surprising” conclusion that nuclear power is still the cheapest form of power generation in Japan at 7.3 – 8.9 Yen/kWh. ($0.092–0.112 | €0.073–0.089 Cent)

As a Sidenote: Isn’t it interessting how nuclear power is always the cheapest form of energy but the cost per kWh is so different around the world? In Germany, it’s supposed to be 1-4 ct / kWh. Mhh… 

At the end of the report, Matsuo Yuhji critically comments on the estimated development of generation costs from solar energy given by the Japanese government. It should be noted that even the government estimates of current and future solar energy costs are very outdated and “conservative.” In this light, it’s remarkable how the “energy experts” of the IEEJ even go out on a limb to question those highly conservative projections.

“(6) The Cost of Renewable Energy

The salient feature of solar and wind power generation in this study is that they incorporate the “possibility” of a significant reduction in costs by 2030. For example, for residential solar power generation, the current construction unit costs of 480-550 thousend yen / kW will be reduced to 189 thousend yen/kW, at least, by 2030 based on the “Paradigm shift scenario.” This, in turn, is expected to reduce the cost of power generation down to 9.9 yen /kWh, which is on par with nuclear and thermal power generation.” – IEEJ: May 2012

The author goes on to point out that these “estimates” of future costs of solar energy are based on a study by Greenpeace and the European Photovoltaic Industry Assosciation. According to him, such a cost decrease due to increased production capacity seems unlikely because of contradicting IEA estimates.

Living Under a Rock?

Everybody who reads CleanTechnica from time to time knows that the numbers and estimates given by both the Japanese government and the criticism by the IEEJ “expert” are shockingly overstating the present cost of  solar energy.

It doesn’t even take any scientific or journalistic effort to show that the IEEJ report is ignorant of the reality at best and possibly purposely dishonest at worst.

What ever it might be, it certainly is a showcase of “scientific” incompetence, since the estimates of the future cost of photovoltaic systems are basically a look into the past. The installation cost for rooftop solar energy in Germany has already fallen to 1776€ per kW or 178 thousand Yen per kW during the first quarter of 2012.

Average Price of installing 1kW of Rooftop Solar in Germany –

According to a recent report by the Fraunhofer Institut of Solar Energy Systems (ISE), the current power generation cost of small residential solar systems in Germany is at 14-20 Yen / €ct per kWh. Considering that Japan has solar conditions similar to Southern France or Spain, this puts the possible current generation costs of small solar systems in Japan at 10-14 Yen /€ct per kWh.

While it is of course a precondition to mobilize the domestic market for renewable energy technologies in order to achieve the same low prices as in Germany, there can be no doubt nor a mere “possibility” that similar low prices are possible in Japan. What’s possible in Germany is certainly possible in Japan, especially since Japanese solar modules are also being sold at price-point in Germany.

Last time I checked, it’s 2012 and not 2030 in Germany, so why is the IEEJ and apparently even the Japanese government living more than a decade in the past when it comes to recognizing today’s potential for renewable energy technologies?

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About the Author

is a close observer of the scientific, political and economic energy debate in Germany and around the globe. Inspired by the life's work of the renewable energy advocate Hermann Scheer, Thomas focuses on spreading information that showcase the possibilities & opportunities of a 100% renewable energy system. Though technology is key for this energy shift, he also looks at the socio-economic benefits and the political, as well as structural barriers.

  • Arne JJ

    Thomas, nice post, thanks for sharing.
    We have asked BSW to translate the latest slide into English and used it in here. Feel free to use:

  • DeWit

    There’s an assumption here that nuke restarts offer cheaper power. Probably, but at a political cost in addition to the added risk of another Fukushima. The nuke village people (in Tepco) have already arm-twisted the weak central government into a JPY 3.5 trillion bailout with restarts. They’ll fight deregulation and grid expansion/smartening because their income streams depend upon it. They’re aided by pretty much the same Keidanren/big banks people who lost 20 years and are working on tossing another decade. They’re being fought by Japan’s most innovative and disruptive capitalists, including Son Masayoshi (Softbank), Hiroshi Mikitani (Rakuten), along with the larger prefectures and big cities. This is the world’s most aged and rapidly aging society, and it’s never going to get another chance like this to break free of ossified vested interests. In other words, this isn’t just about economics but politics as well. It isn’t the usual suspects of brown-rice types and mothers trying to keep those reactors from being restarted. 

    • ThomasGerke

      Great comment. Indeed very true. 

      With energy it’s never only about energy…The idea that one could discuss energy by simply looking at prices is a ridiculess simplification of reality. The source of energy along side food & fresh water is among the most ancient political issue of human civilization.

      Due to that fact the source of energy has implications for all areas of society and all aspects of life. In Japan this is very visible. The unconditional promotion of nuclear energy has corrupted the institution of government, science and jornalism.

      This is truly a historic moment for the country, I hope that more Japanese cooperations would join the ranks of Softbank as I don’t see many benefits for them if they don’t. And I sure hope that an increasing number of japanese citizens take matters into their own hands by building solar like crazy. 

      The PR-Machine certainly works into that direction in Japan currently. 😀
      But I don’t understand why Sharp, Kyocera, Panasonic & others don’t reduce the prices of their solar technology inside Japan… very strange.

  • Wind and solar are great, in some locations. They do not provide base power however, and are not competitive with natural gas for large vehicles or any other large scale need. They can do the job, but at a far greater expense. Nuclear and coal need to be phased out ASAP. Natural gas is natural and green.

    • In a couple of weeks South Australia is shutting down its coal plants which are the state’s entire baseload generating capacity.  We are able to do this because of the state’s wind and solar capacity which currently supply about 31.5% and 3.5% of our electricity.

    • And I’ll mention it’s definitely competitive.  Point of use solar is the cheapest source of electricity in Australia.

  • Natural gas is the future of energy. It is replacing dirty and dangerous coal and nuclear plants. It is producing the electricity for electric cars. It will directly fuel pickup trucks, vans, buses, long haul trucks, dump trucks, locomotives, aircraft, ships etc. It will keep us out of more useless wars, where we shed our blood and money.  Here are over 200 recent links for  you:

    • Bob_Wallace

      Natural gas is great.

      It’s like the neighborhood bully no longer beating you with a great big stick. 

      He’s switched to a smaller, but still painful, stick.

      Leave carbon in the ground where it can’t hurt us.

      • The painful stick is high energy prices, and the deaths and wounding, and billions we leave in the Middle East. The bully is green extremism that leaves us dependent on foreign oil.

        •  And here I was thinking it was Americans driving around in Hummers and stuff that left them dependent on foreign oil.  You learn something new every day.

    • Hope

      EV’s have five moving parts on average. Less maintenance, less need for parts. That also means less oil (aside from the obvious), and less crap in the air from industrial manufacturing of replacement parts.

      The current trend of much engineering and tech is towards solid state, and EV’s are a healthy step in that direction.

      Also quite honestly, fuck gas. I say that as someone who has an LPG car (or CNG, or whichever acronym is relevant in your ‘hood). It EATS at ICEs as the gas burns hotter, and wears down all kinds of components even quicker than normal.

      It also runs less efficiently, and is just as much at the whim of global commodity manipulators as oil (and therefore petrol) is. Also every time you fill up, the pump lets off a great stream of the gas when you pull the nozzle away. Undoubtedly this would be nothing good if all cars ran on this crap.

      The only, and I mean ONLY reason I run it, is because I have long since paid for the conversion, and had it pay for itself in fuel savings. If I could get an EV with 250+ miles at a reasonable price, and the infrastructure to support it, I would happily cough up for a brand new car.

    • ThomasGerke

      “Natural gas” is not green at all nor is it the future as it will be gone in todays quantities sooner or later. Especially unconventional gas from the deep seas or from hydraulic fracking. 

      I grand you that NG has benefits over other forms of fossil fuels. Especially when it’s combined with wind & solar in a decentralized energy system. At that moment it’s the best kind of fossil power generation to cover the shrinking residual load.
      Since gas power station don’t require huge investment costs => using the powerplant less as renewable power production increases over time isn’t very painful for the investor. 

      But the idea of baseload is dying and decentralized biomass, small hydro and energy storage in form of heat, electric and chemical storage (SNG) + decentralized wind & solar are the future. 

      •  I absolutely agree, and I would add that this is a very doable future.

    • Ron,
      Natural gas is cleaner than coal but it is still a finite, fossil resource and burning it will only speed up global warming.

      Some considers it a good transitional solution but most greener types consider it almost as bad as oil and coal.

      Renewable biogas is the only form of “natural” gas I can accept as a long term solution.

  • JohnnySmith0

    “Energy experts” in Japan are basically paid nuclear lobbyists.

  • I wonder how much it will cost for secure and safe *long* term* storage of the spent nuclear rods and the other waste?  Are they including the decommissioning costs, as well?


    • Assuming you mean rods and waste that aren’t in a reactor complex contained melted down reactors, well the cost of storage is hard to say.  Sweeden charges about a third of a cent per kilowatt-hour for waste storage.  Apparently they’re fairly confident that’s about what it will cost.  As for decomissioning, well, looking at examples in Europe it might come to about a cent a kilowatt-hour.  Switzerland estimates an average of $4.5 billion for each of their five nuclear plants.  But it may be cheaper in the US.  The Zion plant was shut down after a huge accident that no one seems to know about and may only cost about one billion dollars to decommission over ten years.  The New Jersey Haddam Neck plant only cost $1.2 billion to decommission, even though that was much higher than the original estimate.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Storage costs are hard to predict. Considering that we don’t have a solution.

        Best we can estimate at the time is the cost of storage long enough to push the problem off to future generations….

        • Shhh!  Saying things like that can summon Barry’s minions who will evangelize about their nuclear waste solution – Barry Brook and the magic integral coloured reactor. 

    • I think they will use the “Rods” in new and innovative electric vehicles of mass destruction.

  • RobS

    We need to be careful to make a distinction here, new nuclear is most certainly not economically competitive. The rosiest cost estimates are $3,000/Kw, which is exactly where solar is today, however all the new nuclear plants currently in construction are seeing cost overruns of 50-100% meaning actual costs are closer to $6,000/Kw. Of course nuclear has a 6 year time from planning to commissioning whereas solar is closer to 0.5-1 year, this means that nuclear is competing with solar economics in ~5 years time not today’s which are already competitive.
    This is a different discussion, here we are talking about the economics of running a fully constructed and commissioned nuclear plant vs constructing alternatives. I have little doubt it IS cheaper to run the plants that are already there, nuclear is capital intensive but running costs are relatively low and they rely on running them for a lengthy period of time first to pay back the initial capital investment and then to build up enough capital to fund the second most costly phase of a nuclear reactors life cycle, decommissioning and indefinite spent fuel storage.
    So the situation they face is deciding between running fully constructed nuclear reactors but remain at risk of another nuclear disaster or spend significant amounts on decommissioning the nuclear plants and make significant investment in new capacity but reduce the risk of further disasters

    •  If the reactors are safe, or more realistically, highly unlikely to release readioactive material, then it makes sense to start them up again.  After all, they are a low emission source of electricity.  But, they will need a realistic insurance rate.  I don’t know what a realistic rate is, but it might be several yen per kilowatt-hour.  As solar continues to spread through Japan it may push electricity prices down to a point where it is below the operating cost plus insurance cost of nuclear reactors, causing them to be shut down at that point. 

      But the idea of new nuclear being competitive with solar is completely disconnected from reality, particularly as Japan’s hydroelectric capacity gives them considerable flexibility in meeting evening demand and energy storage.

  • Guest

    Photovoltaïc price and grid parity in Germany, Italy, France

    (in french)

  • anderlan

    Large scale PV (or small DIY PV) is already at $2000/kW.  Check your online dealer: modules are around $1.25/W and microinverters are around $0.75/W.  Setting the yen at a penny (really about 1.25 pennies), 189,000 yen is $1890.  Centralized PV is already at the 2030 goal.

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