Solar power puts China and Japan on top of the world
This week there is an amazing discussion going on in Tokyo between Chinese and Japanese companies, academics and Government representatives about how to cooperate in the area of new energy. It is part of the ‘PVJapan Solar Power/Photovoltaic 2009’ conference and trade show.
Both countries are realizing that the new kind of economy we need to cut greenhouse gases, is itself going to become an opportunity for jobs and development.
Japan’s PM Mr. Taro Aso raised the stakes back on June 9 when he said that solar power and electric cars are the foundation of Japan’s future economic growth and the way out of the financial crisis. He announced that by 2020 Japan’s new low-carbon sector will be a 50 trillion yen market ($AU650 billion), employing 1.4 million people.
As he concludes:
“To work up a sweat. To produce great results as a team with organizational power. These traditions have contributed to the “manufacturing” sector of Japan. If these strengths can be utilized, the Japanese economy still has great potential.”
You can read the whole speech here.
It should come as no surprise that Asia’s two biggest economies – China and Japan – are cooperating to create a clean energy revolution in the face of climate change and Peak Oil.
While Australia’s coal, gas and aluminum lobby moans about how hard it would be to save vast amounts of energy and generate baseload-grade renewable power, Japan and China are getting on with it.
To get a sense of how quickly photovoltaic (PV) energy will change your life, remember back to when mobile phones reached the tipping point.
For years they were obscure and perhaps even a little pretentious, then suddenly everyone had to have them and have them they did. PV is about there now. Before you know it, it will be everywhere.
Yesterday I explained to some of one of the organizers of ‘PV Japan 2009’ how far behind Australia is and today was told by a German journalist how this story has gone around the conference. He says that people find it incomprehensible how little solar generation Australia has.
He suggests helpfully that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ‘should be a great step’, compared to the previous PM John Howard and allow us to realize our vast solar potential.
The whole of this event is about photovoltaic cells, the ‘solar panels’ that can can be put on the roof of a house to generate electricity on site. The conference in Tokyo this week is just about this one technology and does not look at any other promising renewable technologies such as wind and wave power.
PV is interesting because it puts the power plant on the house or business where it is needed, saving energy losses from transmitting electricity over long distances. This gives it a competitive edge over all forms of centralized energy from conventional sources such as coal and nuclear to renewables such as wind farms or concentrated solar thermal power plants.
According to discussions in Japan this week, there is a consensus that Japan can easily quadruple its installed PV by 2030, to 202GW. To put this in perspective, a big coal-fired power station puts out around 1GW. And unlike coal-fired power, the PV power is in many cases on the actual building where the electricity will be consumed.
Japan’s PV industry is driven and coordinated in typically Japanese fashion, by NEDO, the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization. My guide from NEDO is Masanori Ishimura. He helps translate Japans inspiring approach to the climate change crisis.
Japan has confidence that it can invent an energy revolution. The Government has just announced this week that 36,000 schools will be solarised with PV, in order to increase demand and bring on economies of scale that will lower prices.
Last year NEDO spent Y74 billion ($AU967 million) on various energy conservation and renewable research programmes. PV got Y3.7billion ($AU48 million) on R&D of new technologies and Y6.3billion ($AU$82 million) on field testing to bring them out of the laboratory and up to scale for commercial utilization. This research looks at the basic materials and componants, including investigations into organic solar cells.
Japan used to be the world leader in PV and intends to get back there, according to Hideki Fukuda, Director General of the new energy programme at NEDO. He acknowledges that China has become the worlds largest exporter of pv cells and that the Americans now spend about three times as much as Japan on pv R&D.
In 2007 China was the second biggest investor in renewable energy US at $12billion (just behind Germany at US$14 billion).
The Chinese Government will soon announce a new policy target for clean energy, tipped to be 20 per cent renewable electricity by 2020. This will entail a 75-fold growth in solar in just over ten years.
The biggest energy source in the world is conservation of wasted energy, or ‘Negawatts’. Even conservative World Bank forecasts predict that China could reap 100 GW in energy savings by 2020. This is equivalent to around 100 coal-fired power stations.
Analysts estimate that around one third of China’s US $590bn economic stimulus package is ‘green’, such as new energy transmission systems and public transport, which both cut emissions
The enthusiasm for solar is of course not limited to Japan and China. Chung-Wen Lan General Director of Taiwan’s Photovoltaics Tehcology Centre says that even with the global recession, ‘We should be very optimistic for the future of photovoltaics’.
If Australia wants to stay competitive in energy, we have to switch our national priorities from coal to solar.
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