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The Effect of Japan's Earthquake on Renewable Energy

06 Apr 2011 9:28 AM | Anonymous

Japan is still feeling the devastating effects of the March 11th earthquake.  As some nuclear plants shut down and engineers try to stabilize others, the radiation is having a detrimental effect on natural resources.  Tokyo's 13 million residents were told not to give tap water to babies under 1 year old after contamination hit twice the safety level last week (learn more).  Radiation above safety levels has also been found in milk and vegetables from Fukushima and radioactive cesium 1.8 times higher than the standard level was found in a vegetable grown in a Tokyo research facility.  Australia and the United States are just a few countries restricting imports from the affected region. This nuclear crisis not only affects the country domestically but internationally as well.  What effect will this have on renewable energy development and policy? Will this deter other countries from nuclear power?
The answers to these questions are unclear.  Since the quake, Japan has required a large supply of natural gas in order to fill the energy gap that nuclear power used to fill.  In rebuilding infrastructure, though, Japan may have a strong demand for all forms of distributed power, from mobile generators to PV arrays.  Some believe that distributed PV is the best low-cost alternative to imported natural gas, and therefore, modules created domestically and abroad will be in high demand by the Japanese.  Other experts, such as Piper Jaffray’s Ahmar Zaman, believe that "Demand for solar energy in Japan, among the top 5 markets in the world, will fall this year as the country focuses its resources on reconstruction and other recovery measures."  The role that solar power will play in Japan's energy market is still unclear.  As well, Japan's on-shore wind resource withstood the earthquake, and it is possible that the need for power may accelerate the development of wind energy.  Read more about Japan's future energy market here.
The impact of Japan's quake and nuclear crisis has been seen around the globe.  Not surprisingly, the shares of U.S. and Chinese solar companies, such as First Solar, SunPower, Suntech Power and JA Solar, spiked after the earthquake, while many other stocks fell due to fear that there may be a nuclear meltdown (Read more).  Other countries are taking more extreme measures; Germany wants to abandon nuclear power.  Germany's transition was supposed to take 25 years, but they want to speed it up after Chancellor Angela Merkel called Japan's nuclear crisis a "catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions".  Germany has 85-percent public opposition to nuclear power. 

How will this affect U.S. policy?  In President Obama's State of the Union address in January this year, he endorsed nuclear power. Roberta Gamble, director for energy markets at the research firm Frost & Sullivan, notes that countries worldwide, "Are likely to back away from the 'all-eggs-in-one-basket central power station' model"; meaning that the time of focusing all efforts on nuclear power are gone.  This also means that although solar stock prices rose, this will not become the only energy source.  Mixing numerous forms of renewable energy is the future.  We believe this is a prime opportunity to show off the benefits of renewable energy. 
How can we do this?  By proving that Illinois is Ready for Solar!  Through education programs and advocacy campaigns, we can show others the benefits of solar power.  We have the ability implement new policies to prevent future disasters. 



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