Comparing energy transitions in Germany and Japan

A new paper contributes to understanding national variations in using low-carbon electricity sources by comparing the evolution of nuclear, wind and solar power in Germany and Japan. We explain why in the 1970s–1980s, the energy paths of the two countries were remarkably similar, but since the 1990s Germany has become a leader in renewables while phasing out nuclear energy, whereas Japan has deployed less renewables while becoming a leader in nuclear power.  

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Renewables targeted before Fukushima

In a recent letter to Nature we argue that Japan had become a world's leader in solar energy long before Fukushima. This is both good and bad news for low-carbon energy transitions. On the one hand, there is no need to wait for a nuclear disaster to develop renewable electricity. On the other hand, solar and wind energy will not magically emerge after an earthquake and a tsunami strike a nuclear power plant.

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In Germany and Japan less nuclear means more coal but not more renewables

Many people who love renewable energy hate nuclear power and vice versa. But does it mean that these two sources of electricity compete with each other in reality, and not just in the minds of their over-zealous advocates? This post looks at relevant evidence in energy plans and scenarios made in Germany and Japan both before and after the Fukushima accident.

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Is the 'nuclear lobby' or geography to blame for slow progress of wind power in Japan?

Japan lags behind many countries in deploying wind power. It is easy to explain with reference to the 'nuclear lobby' discouraging strong pro-wind policies and incompetent or corrupt bureaucracy slowing down wind power projects. But are these explanations logical and supported by empirical evidence? We believe that the facts tell otherwise and that slow wind power deployment in Japan is better explained by socio-technical rather than political factors.

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Solar PV in Germany and Japan: a catch-up game

Throughout the 1990s there were 6-7 times more solar PV installations in Japan than in Germany, growing about 40% per year in both countries. In the 2000s a similar growth continued in Japan, whereas German solar grew with some 80% per year. Germany overtook Japan in in 2004 and had 5 times larger capacity by 2011. Since 2011 the pattern of growth has reversed so that Japan is likely to have more cumulative solar PV capacity in the next year or two.

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Vested interests behind energy policies in Japan

Since the 1970s energy efficiency and solar energy have received much more support in Japan than wind energy. This is because these technologies were not only serving industrial policy and energy security imperatives, but were also more compatible with vested interests of Japanese industry and utilities. In addition, cheaper wind energy faced several geographic disadvantages.

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When Do States Invest in Energy Security?

The article by Andrew Cheon and Johannes Urpelainen in the Journal of Conflict Resolution proposes an elegant method of explaining energy R&D in OECD countries by tying it to military expenditures and the concentration of the global oil production in the Middle East. The paper would benefit from more systematically defining its independent variable (energy security as extending beyond using oil in military conflicts) and dependent variable (energy policy as extending beyond R&D expenditures).

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