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Japan's Green Ideas


FACED WITH rising oil prices and global warming, many nations are showing greater interest in alternative energy sources. Japan is no exception. Koichi Kato, former Secretary- General of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has proposed reforms to restore the environment.


FACED WITH rising oil prices and
global warming, many nations are
showing greater interest in alternative
energy sources. Japan is no exception.
Koichi Kato, former Secretary-
General of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic
Party, has proposed reforms to restore
the environment. He argues that increasing
exports of environmentally
friendly technologies will positively impact
Japan’s economy. While politicians from
both sides have differing opinions on the
chosen methods, they tend to agree that
reform is imperative.1 Ultimately, Japan is
responding to various political challenges,
shortage of resources, and other obstacles
with innovative developments in solar
power and nuclear fusion technologies.

Solar Power

 JAPAN IS currently a leader in solar
technologies. Due to a severe
shortage of resources such as
poly-crystalline silicon, the production of
solar cells is in limbo. The price of polysilicon
is estimated to be $200 per kilogram;
a 500 percent increase since 2004.
In fact, the average price has doubled in
the past 20 months and is expected to
increase by 30 percent each year for the
next three years. A further shortage will
likely continue for another five years.

In addition, increases in price translate
into higher costs for the production and
installation of solar technologies.2 This
means many solar projects will require
government subsidies of billions of dollars
to cover the high start-up costs.3 This may
further discourage the use of solar energy
in favor of cheaper alternatives. However,
the long term costs will be substantially
lower than gas- or electric-powered technologies.
4 Leaders in the solar energy production
seek to ensure that the former
scenario doesn’t occur while making solar
power’s lower costs even more attractive.

SHARP CORPORATION—one of
the largest manufacturers of solar
silicon panels—is developing a
new system that will replace silicon-based
cells. Sharp’s prototype is able to convert
36 percent more of the sunlight that hits its
panels into energy compared to the 13 to
22 percent produced by conventional silicon
panels. Their prototype was displayed
at the Solar Power 2006 Conference and
Expo in San Jose, California. The prototype
actually moves in the same direction
as the sun, improving its efficiency.5 This
development should help in making future
solar energy projects more viable.

Nuclear Fusion

Japan is also involved in an international
initiative to develop an alternative energy
source such as nuclear fusion. On 23 November
2006, Japan’s Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe signed an agreement with the
US, the EU, China, India, South Korea,
and Russia to build a nuclear fusion reactor.
Nuclear fusion reactors harness energy
from the collision of hydrogen atoms
at extreme pressures and temperatures.
This reaction produces no harmful waste
and its base materials are small quantities
of sea water and lithium. The project, Iter,
will cost $13.13bn and will take eight
years to construct. The first reactor will be
situated in Paris and will serve as a model
for reactors around the world. However,
while Japanese companies are at the forefront
of this cutting edge area of development,
a major drawback is that it could
take half a century for nuclear fusion to
become a widely used energy source.6

SHINZO ABE may be the answer to
Japan’s stagnating economy. The
prime minister has been instituting
structural changes and setting the stage
for more vibrant economic policy-making.
While he has been critiqued for being
overly concerned with foreign affairs1, his
involvement with the Iter project serves as
a great example of how international environmental
initiatives have the ability to
promote growth.

Conclusion

Environment friendly reforms face many
challenges. Political support is necessary
for the success of these new technologies.
For example, Japan’s construction industry
has a great deal of political clout, and
will hastily fight any reforms that damage
their interests. Another obstacle to such
measures is Japan’s vast national debt.
Japan’s national debt is reaching 130 percent
of its GDP; the government is not
likely to approve costly initiatives.8 There
is still much uncertainty as to what measures
will be taken in the future. What is
known, however, is that in addition to the
environmental benefits these innovations
may have they will also bolster Japan’s
economic growth.

Source: www.asiaecon.org |

 

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