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Japan’s military sets lofty goals for energy independence

Top Stories | Jan 20, 2020:

Felix Kim

Japan’s minister of defense would like to see 100% of his country’s defense facilities powered by renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions and promote energy independence.

Defense Minister Taro Kono told reporters on December 27, 2019, that his office has ordered a review of energy procurement at all facilities belonging to the Defense Ministry and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). “We have just instructed the office so that all facilities can procure electricity with as high a proportion of renewable energy as possible,” he said.

Kono said his ministry must “try honestly” to increase the amount of renewable energy it uses. “It is important to keep in mind that the issue of climate change is not another person’s affair even for the JSDF,” he said, “and I would like to do various things in the future that the JSDF can do.”

JSDF employs 250,000 personnel with facilities throughout Japan, he emphasized. While a shift to 100% renewable energy is a leading goal of the Defense Ministry, other goals include: maintaining a stable power supply, securing competitiveness in procurement, keeping costs down and partnering with local power companies.

“At present, there are systems in place that can supply solar power, wind power, small hydropower and various types of power” in different regions throughout Japan, he said. “As a good neighbor operating in these regions, we want to procure from the power suppliers currently active there.”

Minister Kono included biofuels in his mix of renewable energy sources, remarking that some firms in Japan are working to use biotechnology in the production of aviation fuel. “So, in cooperation with such a company, if there is a place where the SDF can provide the necessary support, we will consider doing it.”

Kono’s statements come as Tokyo has been taking steps to promote renewable energy use in all sectors, including adjustments to the national energy grid and new pricing schemes. The country’s latest energy policy, which is updated every three years, aims for renewables to account for 22% to 24% of national energy consumption by 2030. (Pictured: A floating solar plant in Inchihara, Japan, is the largest of its type in the country. The plant has 50,904 solar modules that generate 16,170 megawatt hours of electricity per year.)

Japan recently scrapped a 2012 incentive program to promote renewable energy production because it favored producers and resulted in higher energy costs for consumers. Its replacement is a scheme based on European models that obliges producers to sell on the wholesale energy market to deliver a lower price.

Kono dismissed the idea that renewable energy is expensive, saying that in terms of cost to the planet, “renewable energy is cheaper than various fossil fuels.”

Japan currently relies on fuel imports to supply about 80% of its energy needs, according to the World Nuclear Association, a figure kept high by a lack of natural resources and the shutdown of Japanese nuclear plants following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Renewables, therefore, are viewed as an environmentally friendly path to greater energy independence. “Ultimately, renewable energy is domestic energy,” Kono said, “so if the Ministry of Defense/SDF does not rely on imported energy, it will lead to securing resilience.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.

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