Now that Japan has committed to shutting down nuclear power plants that supplied 30 percent of the country’s power prior to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, the government has supported more clean energy development through generous subsidy programs.
This has attracted an unprecedented level of renewable energy investment in the last two months alone: over $2 billion since the program’s launch in July and September.
Most of the attention has been centered on solar development in Japan, although some companies, like one of the world’s largest trading houses Sumitomo Corp, have instead looked to wind power for a “more manageable” way to achieve Japan’s renewable energy goals.
Until now, not a lot has been said about Japan’s geothermal potential. Japan has the third largest geothermal energy potential in the world, after Indonesia and the United States, but currently only generates about 0.3% of its energy with geothermal. That makes it about eighth in the world in annual geothermal energy output.
The New York Times drew attention to Japan’s geothermal development last week, stating that the Japanese government is spending over $115 million on geothermal energy development surveys this year with a request for about another $100 million in surveys for next year.
In addition to the surveys, the Japanese government has funded a program that assists geothermal developers with capital injections and debt guarantees. It has requested an 30% increase in funding for the program in 2013.
Keiichi Sakaguchi, head of the geothermal resources research group at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, told the Times, “Unlike solar or wind energy that can vary in output due to weather conditions, geothermal energy is pretty consistent and stable in output and has the potential to serve as a base load for energy production.”
Analysts say that there is a wealth of geothermal energy just waiting to be tapped into, more than 20 GW around the country according to a report issued by the Japanese government.
Development must proceed carefully, however; nearly 80 percent of the country’s geothermal potential exists in regions reserved as national parks and monuments. While for many years, projects in these areas were banned, after the Fukushima disaster last year, the government lifted the ban and allowed five new geothermal sites to be explored under tight supervision of course.