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Japan to open first geothermal plant for 15 years

  • 8 years ago (2014-03-17)
  • Junior Isles
Asia 746 North America 926 Nuclear 587 Renewables 708
Japan is to open its first geothermal plant for 15 years next month, with the 2 MW Kumamoto plant representing the first of a new wave of non-nuclear generation.
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Chuo Electric Power Co is funding the project and has set up a dedicated company devoted to new geothermal energy. It plans to open five further plants across Japan over the next five years.

Toshiba and Orix have also set up a joint geothermal power generation company, and are aiming to complete their first new project in Gifu prefecture by next year.

A potential geothermal power boom is on the horizon in Japan, with public opinion sharply divided on returning to nuclear. Many communities are also considering taking their energy supply into their own hands.

Distribution geothermal generation is being primed at more than 60 sites around Japan and business and government are monitoring the situation.

“It is much better for nations to have their own energy resources in terms of national security, and geothermal is a domestic and abundant energy source in Japan,” said Masaho Adachi, geothermal energy expert and former chairman of Japan Geothermal Developers Council.

“Even though its contribution to Japan’s electric demands may be very small, it is valuable if it helps the understanding and familiarity of large size geothermal plants which are currently undergoing exploration and development,” said Adachi.

Japan’s potential geothermal power capacity is estimated at as much as 23 GW, but only around two per cent of this is currently being used.

The reason for this under-utilisation has been strong historical resistance from local communities who are protective of their hot springs and associated tourism, with many potential sites for plants located in government protected areas.

Crucially, the Fukushima disaster has led to a sea-change in public mood. With anti-nuclear campaigners fighting Japan’s nuclear restart at every corner, geothermal power is now seen as one of the most viable alternative energy sources.

This new wave of geothermal projects benefit from their small size and limited impact on the surrounding communities.

“Such a small-scale geothermal power generation approach is an epoch-making, future-oriented project, which not only is able to exploit the potential of numerous hot spring towns in Japan and allow the supply of energy in the next generation with the lowest environmental impact possible, but also takes the revitalisation of decaying local communities into consideration,” says Hiroto Kobayashi, associate professor at Keio University, writing on Chuo Electric Power Co’s website.