“Japan’s dim capital faces further power crunch” (Associated Press, April 3):
About 9 million kilowatts of capacity may be gone forever as the radiation-leaking Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is likely to be scrapped and the future of the halted Dai-ni plant is uncertain. That suggests chronic shortages until new power plants are built. A government plan for the power supply that may include new plant construction is to be announced at the end of April.
Electrical power is critical to the automobile and steel industries, and one Tokyo resident comments, “I think it will be nearly impossible for Japanese people to live without air conditioning.”
It will take at least ten years to construct a nuclear power plant. Waiting that long is out of the question. So does Japan go for fossil fuel? That’s not so cheap either.
Construction cost estimates for new coal-fired power plants are very uncertain and have increased significantly in recent years. The industry is using terms like “soaring,” “skyrocketing,” and “staggering” to describe the cost increases being experienced by coal plant construction projects. In fact, the estimated costs of building new coal plants have reached $3,500 per kW, without financing costs, and are still expected to increase further.
For the replacement of 10 gigawatts of electrical capacity, Japan would need to spend $35 billion on coal plant construction. Remember, that’s just on plant construction. Then you have to buy the fuel.
Coal-generated electrical power operational costs are 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Even at half capacity of 5GW, that would be $24 billion added to the cost over the next ten years.
Total coal power cost for Japan: $59 billion, and it will take several years to build the plants.
Fortunately, there is a power source that Japan can build now — and will provide power cheap. It’s solar power. Current costs for rooftop solar photovoltaic installations even in the anti-solar US have dropped to $4.22 a watt — or $4220 per kilowatt.
For the 10 GW that Japan needs, the total solar power cost would be $42 billion, versus $59 billion for coal power — and, perhaps, Near Infinite for nuclear power.
The aforementioned price for community PV installations is without tax incentives or subsidies. This can be done personally, without a massive government program.
Indeed, the only thing that may prevent Japan from going massively solar this summer is the government, which will dangle false promises of a future glut of subsidized fossil fuel power in front of consumers in order to deter individualized solar power installation in the near term.
But can the solar power industry meet the need in the short term? Solar power industry inventory is currently 3 GW. That’s thirty percent of Japan’s power production gap, already built and ready to install.
Sweat out the long hot summers and shiver through the long cold winters in the dark waiting for fossil fuel plants to be built, or go solar now. That’s the choice for every Japanese citizen, community, and company.