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An Open Letter to the Japanese People

(An Open Letter Japanese version )

June 5th, 2011

Dear friends in Japan,

We have been emotionally shocked by the earthquakes and tsunami that have hit your country. Our hearts reach out to you. We live across the ocean on Canada’s west coast, and our cherry blossoms bloom at the same time that yours do.

My personal work is devoted to creating a vision of a more sustainable world, and doing what I can to make it happen. I dream of a green economy in which everyone will be able to live and work in harmony with nature, benefiting from solar panels, electric cars, safe bicycle lanes, high speed trains and sociable village communities, enjoying lives that are rich in fulfillment and meaning.

You face a very immediate energy crisis, with so much nuclear and fossil fuelled electrical capacity out of action because of the disasters. Some people say nuclear power is still safe, and that you should build more new reactors. Others say you must tackle your energy crisis by importing more coal, oil and gas, and burning more fossil fuels. I believe that both routes will bring disaster.

I have never been a fan of nuclear power. I worry about its dangers, its very high financial cost [1], and the nuclear wastes that will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. The private sector never invests in nuclear power unless it is heavily subsidized by the government, and when there is a disaster, most of the cost is carried by the public, not by the nuclear industry.

Meanwhile, the world’s climate scientists are warning us that if we continue to burn fossil fuels, Earth’s temperature could rise by as much as 4 to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. These are very alarming numbers, because geology tells us that the last time the world was 3 degrees Celsius warmer, the sea level was 25 metres higher.

The Danger of Sea Level Rise

Our oceans and atmosphere are already warming. Ice is melting all over the world. In 1996, the Environment Agency of Japan released data which showed that if the sea-level around Japan rose by just one metre, 15 million people would have to move, and assets worth 378 trillion yen ($4.5 trillion) on 9,000 square kilometres would be affected.[2] The latest scientific report suggests that the sea-level could rise by up to 1.6 metres by the end of this century.[3] 

Earthquakes and tsunamis will always happen, for we cannot stop tectonic plates from moving or the ocean from responding. But to contemplate a tsunami on top of a 25 metre sea-level rise is unthinkable, when we know the death and destruction that was caused by this tsunami, without any sea-level rise. So many people are grieving. So many people are still traumatized by the dark deadly waters. So many people have lost their lives.

I have never visited your country, but I have been thinking a lot about your country’s energy crisis. With four of your six Fukushima nuclear reactors dead, many other TEPCO and Tohuku power plants damaged, and 27 nuclear power plants closed down, how will you meet your future electricity needs?

Some people say nuclear power is still safe, and it was only the bad design of the Fukushima reactors that caused their failure. Until May 10th, when Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced that the government was scrapping the plan, Japan’s electrical utilities were planning to greatly increase your dependence on nuclear power.

A nuclear reactor must always be cooled, which is why every Japanese reactor is by the sea, where future tsunamis and sea-level rise will always threaten them. New nuclear reactors will be hugely expensive, requiring huge government subsidies, and the problems of the radioactive wastes will remain. Nuclear reactors also take at least ten years to build, so a planned nuclear expansion will do nothing to meet your immediate power crisis.

Others say Japan must burn more fossil fuels to make electricity, and import more natural gas, oil and coal. But this too would be a disaster, because it would speed up global warming, and the accompanying sea level rise. The prices of coal, gas and oil are bound to rise, and every yen that is spent to buy them will leave the Japanese economy. To invest in old technologies that require more imported fossil fuels at an ever-increasing cost will impose an enormous cost on your next generations, and make the world a more dangerous place.

Our energy does not need to come from fossil fuels or nuclear power. It can come direct from Nature - from the sun, wind, earth and water, that will never run out or disappear.

The sun will continue to send us energy for five billion years, before it becomes a red giant. The wind will not stop blowing. The gravitational pull of the earth, moon and sun that causes the rain to fall and the tides to change will not stop. The rocks beneath us will not stop being geothermally hot. We are surrounded by safe, renewable energy given to us freely by Nature.

Is 100% Renewable Electricity Possible for Japan?

Could Japan could meet all her energy needs by following a green path to a safe, natural energy future? To explore this question, we have to look at some numbers.

In 2009, Japan used 858 TWh (terawatt-hours) of electricity.[4] 30% was generated by nuclear power. 26% came from burning gas, 25% from coal, 9% from hydropower, 8% from oil, and only 1% from solar, wind and geothermal power. 84% of Japan’s primary energy supply is imported, including the uranium for the nuclear reactors.

Could 100% of Japan’s electricity come from renewables, with no need for imported uranium, coal or gas? Rapid change happens all the time. It is only 133 years since electricity was first used in Japan. If Japan could demonstrate that a large developed nation could operate on 100% renewable electricity, the global impact would be enormous. Japan’s economy would benefit greatly from the innovation, investments and jobs that would occur, and the money spent on energy would stay within Japan’s economy, instead of leaving the country for Saudi Arabia, Canada, Russia, and other fossil fuel and uranium exporters.

So what does the challenge look like when we wrestle it to the ground?

As Japan’s drivers change to electric vehicles, as more buses become electric and as more buildings are heated with electrical heat pumps that extract heat from the air, ground or water, the demand for electricity will rise by perhaps 15%, increasing the electricity needed to 1,000 TWh.

The Goal: 1,000 TWh a year

Could Japan generate 1,000 TWh of electricity a year using renewable sources only? The research that I have read tells me the answer is yes. The numbers that I have used below come from a variety of sources, including a 2010 study by Japan’s Ministry of Environment.[5]

Efficiency: 170 - 429 TWh/year

If there was a huge drive for greater energy conservation and energy efficiency, the amount of electricity needed could be reduced. Already, people all over Japan are making an extra effort to save energy because of the current energy crisis.

In 2001, Greenpeace International and Greenpeace Japan published an important report titled Energy Rich Japan, which concluded that overall demand could be reduced by 50% below the current demand (858 TWh), a number supported by the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Tokyo. Even a 20% reduction, saving 170 TWh a year, would be a huge achievement.

Solar Energy: 72 - 300 TWh/year

Japan is a world leader in the use of solar energy, but the number of solar installations is still quite small, at 3664 MW, producing 3.8 TWh a year[6]. The government hopes to increase this to 53,000 MW by 2030, producing 56 TWh, but the current policy is very flat, and this is still a relatively small amount.

Pal Town Neighbourhood, Ota, near Tokyo

Japan has 54 million housing units. If 50 million homes each had a 4 kW PV system on its roof, totaling 200,000 MW, this would produce 210 TWh a year. With solar installations also on commercial rooftops, building facades, parking lots and alongside railways, up to 300 TWh could be generated.

The Fukushima exclusion zone, stretching 30 kilometres from the damaged reactors, covers 1400 square kilometres (140,000 hectares). If the radioactive zone was turned into a giant solar farm, this area alone could produce 40 TWh a year.[7]

The Ministry of Environment’s report that Japan has solar energy potential in the range of 72 - 105 TWh a year; the Energy Rich Japan report suggests 118 to 295 TWh a year. The numbers vary, based on different assumptions. There is even research being done into the possibility of repaving roads with solar cells, since the sun shines on most roads, all roads must be paved, and asphalt, which made from oil, is already becoming very expensive.[8]

“But solar is too expensive!” you might respond. The price of solar PV is falling steadily as the demand increases. Since 2000, the global market for solar PV has grown from 170 MW to 170 GW - a thousand-fold increase - and the price has fallen by 50% in the last 4 years. In the US, the average installed price in 2010 was $5.13 per watt. The solar expert Jigar Shah, who is CEO of the Carbon War Room, says that by 2012, the installed price could fall to as low as $2.60 per watt.

The hope in the solar industry is that solar PV will soon reach “grid parity” at a price of 12 Yen (15 cents) kWh ($2 per watt). Since Japanese households pay 20 Yen/kWh for electricity, any investment in solar PV is very smart. Solar energy also matches Japan’s peak power demand, which rises by 50% during the hot summer months of July and August when the air conditioners are switched on.

Wind Energy: 570 - 5,000 TWh/year

Japan has been slow to develop its wind power potential, because here too, your government’s policies have been slow. In 2010, there was 2,304 MW of wind energy, producing around 5 TWh a year. The government’s goal for 2030 is 20,000 MW, producing 52 TWh.[9]

The Ministry of Environment report (April 2011) reports  “extremely large” wind energy potential, with 280 GW of land-based wind potential and 1,200 GW of off-shore potential, producing up to 5,000 TWh a year.[10] A 2009 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated 570 TWh from land-based turbines, and 2,700 TWh from off-shore turbines.[11] 

Kamisu Wind Farm, Kanto Region.  Wind Power Ibaraki

Offshore wind is an exciting area, since Japan is surrounded by ocean. Spread along the 2,500 km of Japan’s eastern coastline, clusters of turbines could be 20 kilometres apart. Each turbine on the ocean floor would create new marine habitat, supporting marine life, and fishing could continue between the turbines.

Most ocean turbines sit on the ocean bottom, which limits their use to shallow waters, but Norway’s Statoil Hydro is pioneering a deep-water floating wind turbine, called Hywind. It does not swing more than 3 degrees away from the vertical, and can withstand the strongest typhoon.[12]

Horns Rev ocean wind farm, Denmark

With both land-based and ocean turbines, where the clusters were located is something that would need much discussion.

In the media, you can read stories about how wind turbines kill birds, or make a terrible noise. None of this is true. The number of birds killed by wind turbines is very small - many times less than the birds killed by cats, cars, and high rise buildings.

It is easy to say “NO” to new ideas, but every “NO” to renewable energy is a “YES” to more nuclear power and more fossil fuels that will speed up global warming and cause the sea level to rise. This is the price of a “NO”.

Geothermal Energy: 98 - 500 TWh/Year

Japan is one of the world’s most tectonically active areas, with 28,000 onsen and nearly 200 volcanoes, and many onsen (hot springs). The rocks several kilometres underground are hot, and in an area such as Japan, the heat is closer to the surface.

So far, Japan has built 20 geothermal power plants with 540 MW of capacity, which produce 3 TWh of electricity a year.[13] With the best policies, there is huge potential to do more.

In their 2010 Country Update for Japan[14], Hiroki Sugino and Toshihiro Akeno estimate that Japan has an estimated geothermal potential of 23,500 MW, which could produce 155 TWh a year. Dr. Hirofumi Muraoka, of Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, suggests that a further 49,000 MW is possible when you drill 3 to 4  km underground, and that an additional 8,330 MW could be produced from onsen, for a total of 80,830 MW.[15] Since geothermal energy is not intermittent, like wind or solar, this much capacity could produce over 500 TWh of electricity a year. The Ministry of Environment report, on the other hand, suggests figures ranging from 30 to 92 TWh.

Hatchobaru Geothermal Power Plant, Kokonoe Town, Oita Prefecture
Photo: Prof. Sachio Ehara

90% of the best locations for geothermal energy are in your national parks, so there would need to be a debate about what is acceptable. Your parks cover 20,000 square kilometres, or 14% of your land area, of which 6% are in Special Protection zones. A typical geothermal facility uses 400 square meters per GWh of electricity, so 500 TWh of geothermal production would occupy 20 square kilometres of land, or 1/1000th of Japan’s parks area.[16]

Hydro Power: 79-140 TWh/year

Nature has also given us gravity, which causes rain and snow to fall from the sky, allowing us to generate electricity from hydropower. Japan has 22,000 MW of hydropower, which produces 92 TWh of electricity a year. In a 2007 presentation[17], Eiji Yamamoto of Japan’s New Energy Foundation showed that a further 12,000 MW was possible. Combined with Japan’s existing hydropower, it could produce 140 TWh of electricity a year.[18] The Ministry of Environment’s report suggests 42 to 80 TWh, while admitting that it’s numbers may be on the conservative side. This would require many small “run of river” diversion projects, in which water is diverted from a flow of water and then returned after the energy in the water’s flow has been gathered.

Tidal and Wave Power: 20 - 70 TWh/year

The power of the ocean is enormous - as we have just seen so tragically - but it can also be used to generate energy from the tides and waves. South Korea is building 90 MW tidal power plant at Uldolmok, and China has built 8 tidal power stations with a total capacity of 6 MW.

Japan has a huge coastline, and Nova Energy has installed 20.5 kw turbines in the Akashi Strait[19] in the Seto Inland Sea, which is a good location for development due to its many narrow island passages, which increase tidal velocity.[20] One estimate suggests that Japan’s ocean energy may be able to produce around 70 TWh a year.[21]

South Korea’s 1 MW Jindo Uldolmok tidal power plant

Can It Be Done?

The goal for electricity is 1000 TWh a year. The low estimates show that Japan could produce almost 100% of its electricity from renewables; the high estimates provide 600% more electricity than is needed, creating room for choice.






Solar PV












Tidal and Wave



Per year…



The investments needed will be large, but the money will remain within Japan, and be financed through utility bill payments. Paul Gipe, the American energy specialist who has become a global leader in promoting the Feed-In Tariff as the best way to promote the rapid acceleration of renewable energy, has estimated that if Japan were to follow Germany’s lead on renewable energy, using a robust, comprehensive Feed-In Tariff, it could generate 180 TWh of new renewable electricity within ten years, six times more energy that the six damaged reactors at Fukushima produced before the tsunami.[22]

The different kinds of energy would need to be integrated, using geothermal and hydro power as firm energy to balance the intermittent solar, wind, tidal and wave energy. You would also need new transmission lines, and many other innovations.

But this is only electricity. What about the energy needed for transport, and heat? This too comes mostly from fossil fuels that Japan imports as oil, gas, and coal for industrial heat. There are many important questions which must be researched.

In April 2011, Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said that oil may have already peaked in 2006[23]. The global price of oil may soon pass $150 a barrel, and the price at the pump may reach 200 yen per litre. As Japan looks to the future, it must accept the inevitability that the world’s supply of affordable oil will soon disappear.

Could all of Japan’s transportation needs be met with electric and hybrid electric vehicles, electric city buses, electric railways for freight and passengers, safe routes for cycling, electric bicycles, and more telecommuting and telemeetings? Toyota and Honda have led the world with their hybrid vehicles, and Mitsubishi with its i-MiEV  - many i-MiEVs were used in the region around Sendai after the earthquake when gasoline was not available, and they performed admirably.[24]

Toyota EV for 2012 and electric charging station

A i-MiEV at work near Sendai

Could your trucks, ships and airplanes run on biofuels made from algae? How much bioenergy could Japan produce?

Could Japan’s buildings be heated using electrically powered heat pumps, district heating, biomass heat and power, and solar thermal heating for space and water? Could Japan’s industry and manufacturing operate with high temperature heat from hydrogen or biofuel?

There is so much innovation happening in the world, and for many years, Japan has been a global technological leader. This is a global problem that we all face - it is not just Japan’s problem. We need your skill and expertise to develop new kinds of renewable heat, fuel, and power, new kinds of electric batteries, and new super-efficient appliances and machines. We can not continue on our current path. As a world, we must change - and we need your help.

Is Renewable Energy A Sensible Path?

When you consider the many different factors related to energy which will impact Japan’s future economy (see below), it seems clear to me that this would be a highly sensible approach. Increased reliance on nuclear power or fossil fuels makes very little sense. As well as producing pollution and radioactive wastes and increasing global warming, the price of the imported fuels is guaranteed to rise, since they are scarce resources in a very competitive world.

When you use renewable energy, on the other hand, the investment happens in Japan, the innovation happens in Japan, the jobs are created in Japan, the money spent on energy remains in Japan, and the export of new clean energy technologies flows from Japan.

Around the world, a green energy revolution is happening, with more money being invested in renewables ($150 billion in 2009) than in new fossil fuel production. China and Germany are each investing $25 to $30 billion a year in renewable energy, but with its current policies, Japan does not make the list.[25]

             Impact on Japan’s Future Economy

Fossil Fuels



  1. Requires imported fuel




  1. Danger of fuel supply running scarce




  1. Creates local pollution




  1. Causes global warming




  1. Very vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis




  1. Creates long-term dangerous wastes




  1. Increasing cost over time




  1. Exports yen from Japan’s economy




  1. Retains yen within Japan’s economy




  1. Falling costs over time




  1. Generates many new jobs in Japan




  1. Generates technological innovation in Japan




  1. Resilience against natural disaster




Soon after the earthquake and tsunami, Softbank’s Chief Executive, Masayoshi Son, pledged a billion yen ($12 million) to establish a renewable energy foundation, and said that he would set up an advisory committee promoting renewable energy, seeking the installation of 30 GW of new renewable energy within six years. He expressed the desire to meet with 100 of the world’s top leaders in renewable energy, to seek their advice. This is exactly the kind of thinking that is needed. Andrew DeWit, an energy and finance specialist at Rikko University, said in his March 2011 article The Earthquake in Japanese Energy Policy, “policy choices made now, in the midst of this crisis, and right in its wake, will be of the utmost importance in shaping the future.”

Every crisis brings both danger and the need for resolute action. I urge you to use this terrible disaster that you have suffered and the energy crisis that it has caused to change direction, and seek a green path into the future - a path that is friendly with nature, and that does not increase the risk of nuclear disaster or global warming, does not make you vulnerable to the increasing cost of imported power, and will protect you against the looming energy crisis that will be result from the peak oil.

Imagine, if you were to say with confidence “We will embrace this challenge”.

There is a video that was made to celebrate the launch of the Kyushu Shinkansen high speed rail line, which connects Hakata to Kagoshima. The video was made on March 11th, and then the earthquake happened. The planned launch was cancelled, and the video was never broadcast. But it is amazing - you can see it on YouTube. I imagine the same kind of celebration each time Japan reaches a new goal: 10% renewable energy - 20% renewable energy - 30% renewable energy...

Here’s how the closing words of the video have been translated:

On that day, you waved at us. Thank you. You smiled for us. Thank you. You came together as one for us. Thank you. From now, Japan is linked together, from top to bottom. From now, Japan will become fun.

I imagine a new video, celebrating the success of powering the whole country with renewable energy. And these are the closing words:

On that day, you waved at us. Thank you. You smiled for us. Thank you. You came together as one for us. Thank you. Japan is now powered by 30% renewable energy, from top to bottom. Soon, we will reach 100%. From now, Japan will become fun.

With care and compassion,

Guy Dauncey is President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, and author of the award-winning book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming (New Society Publishers, 2009). See www.earthfuture.com and www.theclimatechallenge.ca


Energy Rich Japan , by Greenpeace International and Greenpeace Japan, 2001. www.energyrichjapan.info

Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan: www.fepc.or.jp

Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies: http://www.isep.or.jp

Japan’s Geothermal Energy: http://dpescatore.blogspot.com/2009/12/paper-japans-geothermal-energy.html

Phasing our nuclear in Japan, by Dave Elliot (UK Open University), 2011. http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/2011/03/phasing-out-nuclear-in-japan.html

Renewable Energy and Social Innovation in Japan, Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies.

Renewable Japan Status Report 2010: http://www.re policy.jp/jrepp/JSR2010SMR20101004E.pdf

Study of Potential for the Introduction of Renewable Energy. Climate Change Policy Division, Ministry of Environment, Japan. April 2011.

Time to Rethink Japan’s Energy Policy, by Matt Roney, Earth Policy Institute, 2011. www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2011/update94

The Earthquake in Japanese Energy Policy, by Andrew DeWit. The Asia Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 13 No 1, March 28 2011

Guy Dauncey

[1] The staggering cost of new nuclear power, by Joe Romm. Climate Progress, January 5, 2009. www.climateprogress.org/2009/01/05/study-cost-risks-new-nuclear-power-plants

[2] Effect of Sea-level Rise on Japan. CGER, Data Book on Sea-Level Rise. Tokyo: Center for Global Environmental Research, Environment Agency of Japan, 1996. pp. 67-68. www.gdrc.org/oceans/un-seahorse/sea-rise.html

[3] Scientific America, May 3, 2011

[4] Study of Potential for the Introduction of Renewable Energy. Climate Change Policy Division, Ministry of Environment, Japan. April 2011. http://www.env.go.jp/en/headline/file_view.php?serial=411&hou_id=1576

[5] Study of Potential for the Introduction of Renewable Energy. Climate Change Policy Division, Ministry of Environment, Japan. April 2011.

[6] This assumes a 12% capacity factor - that solar PV will produce power on average for 12% of the time.

[7] In Ontario, Canada, the 80 MW Sarnia Solar Project occupies 384 hectares, and produces 120 GWh a year. On this basis, 1 hectare of solar PV produces 0.312 GWh/yr. 140,000 hectares = 43,750 GWh or 43 TWh/yr.

[8] See www.wimp.com/solarhighways and www.solarroadways.com

[9] Existing wind energy - 25% capacity factor. New wind energy 30%. Off-shore wind 40%.

[10] New land-based wind 30%. Off-shore wind 40%.

[11] Global potential for wind-generated electricity by Xi Lua, Michael B. McElroya and Juha Kiviluomac http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/06/19/0904101106.full.pdf

[13] Assumes a 75% capacity factor

[14] Proceedings World Geothermal Congress 2010 Bali, Indonesia, 25-29 April 2010. http://b-dig.iie.org.mx/BibDig/P10-0464/pdf/0142.pdf

[15] Personal email from Matt Roney, Worldwatch Institute, author of Time to Rethink Japan’s Energy Policy

[16] Characteristics, Development and Utilization of Geothermal Resources, by John Lund, Oregon Institute of Technology, 2007.


[18] 65% capacity factor

[19] See www.nova-ene.co.jp

[21] 30 to 50 GW. Assume 40 GW, 30% capacity factor

[22] What Feed-in Tariffs could do for Japan’s Electricity Shortage, by Paul Gipe. http://www.wind-works.org/FeedLaws/Japan/WhatFeed-inTariffsCouldDoforJapansElectricityShortage.html

[23] See www.abc.net.au/catalyst/oilcrunch/

[24] After Disaster Hit Japan, Electric Cars Stepped Up - New York Times,  May 6 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/automobiles/08JAPAN.html

[25] Renewables 2010 Global Status Report. www.ren21.net

I would like to extend my deepest thanks to Michiyo Furuhashi from the Konahana Family near Mount Fuji (www.konohana-family.org), and Matthew Yoshitake from Cascadia Ecohomes in Vancouver BC (www.cascadiaecohomes.com) for translating my Open Letter into Japanese. Arigatou Gozaimasu.


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