RISING like a phoenix from the ashes of the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred in March 2011, Fukushima prefecture, the third largest in Japan, is hoping to be a beacon for Japan’s new energy technologies for the future.

Efforts under the Fukushima New Energy Society Initiative, intended to reconstruct and revitalise the area from the 2011 disaster through advances in the field of energy, are starting to bear fruit in consolidating Fukushima as a pioneer in the field of renewable and hydrogen energy.

In January, Japan will host an event on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit 2018 in the United Arab Emirates to showcase these new energy technologies.

An ambitious project is now in progress in Fukushima to produce hydrogen from renewable energy on a large scale and to transport, store and use it. There are also plans for the Fukushima-generated hydrogen to be used during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The initiative was announced by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year to aid and accelerate Fukushima’s recovery after devastation caused to the area in 2011 by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which resulted in a tsunami that led to the shutdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

As a result of the disaster, 370km (approximately three per cent) of the 13,783km prefecture was placed under evacuation orders and as of July this year, nearly 58,000 people from Fukushima continue to live as evacuees.

The reported cost of damage to Fukushima Prefecture includes an estimated 316.2 billion yen (RM11.66 billion) to public works facilities; 245.3 billion yen to agriculture, forestry and fishery facilities; 37.9 billion yen to educational facilities and a total of 599.4 billion yen on damage to public facilities.

The removal of disaster debris is still ongoing in certain parts of Fukushima.

“Up till 2011, nuclear energy was heavily utilised in Japan. But the disaster that hit Fukushima that year changed everything. It resulted in a big shift in Japan’s energy supply sources,” said Economic Security director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo Misako Takahashi.

She said after the oil shocks of the 1970s, Japan sought to decrease its dependency on fossil fuel through improving energy and decarbonisation by promoting renewable and nuclear energy.

“With the shutdown of over 50 nuclear reactors across the country, we had to import natural gas, oil and coal from other countries like Malaysia and Indonesia to meet our energy needs because we did not have our own natural fuel resources.

“As a result, Japan’s fossil fuel dependency in power generation rose from 62 per cent in 2010 to 86 per cent in 2014.”

Takahashi said, given concerns over climate change and The Paris Agreement, Japan was encouraged to explore renewable energy systems with low carbon impact on the environment.

Under the Paris Agreement, it is one of 196 countries which agreed to implement federal laws that reduce their carbon emission by 2050.

Currently the government is supporting research and development for the production and transportation of Hydrogen and to realise a Hydrogen Society.

Commercial fuel cell vehicles have been on the market since December 2014 and since May this year 90 hydrogen refueling stations, more than any other country, were deployed.

Kobe City is also set to become the first city in the world to supply electricity and heat through hydrogen power generation. Fukushima has a target to produce enough renewable energy to supply 100 per cent of the energy demand in the prefecture by 2040.

Meanwhile, smart community projects are in progress in Soma City and the towns of Shinchi, Namie and Naraha — all in the coastal Hamadori region. Investment in solar energy as an alternative energy source has also been big.

In Sukagawa City and Tamakawa Village, the Fukushima Airport Mega Solar power plant, a 400 million yen megasolar power plant with an annual output power of 1,179MWh (enough for approximately 330 households) was completed in 2014.

Aizuwakamatsu City’s smart community powered by solar energy was completed in 2015. Agreeing with the need for Japan to increase its renewable energy is director-general of the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute (FREA) Masaru Nakaiwa. Located in Koriyama, a town in the centre of Fukushima,

FREA has been entrusted with the promotion of research and development of renewable energy internationally, and to revitalise the disaster-affected areas by developing new industries and human resources

He said prior to the Fukushima disaster, the policy target was to derive half of the country’s energy from nuclear sources by 2030.

“But in the aftermath of the disaster, it has become apparent that we need to increase our renewable energy by at least 25 per cent from the current 10 per cent today.

Renewables are valuable domestic energy resources for Japan and they are indispensable for both the prevention of global warming and maintaining sustainability.”

The writer’s trip to The Fukushima New Energy Society Initiative was courtesy of the government of Japan.

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