It has been almost a full year since Germany chose to return to the path of phasing out nuclear power.
The country’s goal is to close all of its 17 reactors by 2022. And its industry and society are all moving toward that same goal, creating new jobs and businesses on the way.
Japan can learn much from Germany’s example: to act promptly based on a clear-cut government goal and plan, and seize the fruits of those labors.
What symbolizes Germany's change is the action taken by its industry.
Germany's major utilities, E.ON AG and RWE, canceled their participation in Britain's nuclear plant construction project, despite the fact they had already set up a joint venture. The decision was made as they took into account the rising construction costs and the mounting risks involving the nuclear power industry. In line with government policy toward electricity deregulation, they also separated their power distribution sections within Germany.
German electronics titan Siemens has also ceased its involvement in nuclear power. The company is starting to transform itself into a "green" company, investing in R&D for new power grids and power storage, as well as in offshore wind farms. Siemens no doubt decided to pursue these measures on expectations of profits.
The economic effects of the spread of renewable natural energy, such as wind, solar and biomass, deserve close attention. According to the German government's estimates, natural energy created 380,000 jobs, including work in the manufacturing to distribution services.
There are also many projects seeking to create communities with high-level energy efficiency by improving insulation in buildings and homes. Measures to save electricity and conserve energy are blended quite naturally into daily life, which then stimulates the economy. There seems to be a positive cycle here.
In the aftermath of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, eight reactors in Germany, mainly old ones, were stopped. As a result, the ratio of nuclear-generated electricity fell to the 10-percent range. The government's goal is to increase the percentage of natural energy, which rose to about 20 percent as a result of the fall in nuclear power, to 35 percent by 2020.
However, the swift pace of this shift has exceeded expectations and is also causing confusion. One example is the lowering of buyback rates for solar energy.
The spread of solar energy has been buoyed by the buyback program whereby utilities purchase the generated renewable energy at a fixed rate. However, excessive investment has forced consumers to pay higher electricity bills, so the buyback price is due to be cut by more than 20 percent.
To spread the use of renewables at a steady pace, it is necessary to stay abreast of the detailed changes in power generation costs and adjust the buyback rates accordingly. This would prove to be a valuable lesson for Japan as its buyback program begins in earnest in July.
Germany is stimulating its economy and society by setting a firm goal for the phaseout of nuclear power and deftly combining that with a support program for renewable energy. That is the kind of invention and action that Japan needs.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 27
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