It’s a bit like the world upside down. In Japan, it is the manufacturers who are pushing to accelerate the energy transition. While the government aims to increase the share of renewables in electricity production to 24% by 2030, against 17% in 2018, a powerful lobby of Japanese bosses, the Keizai Doyukai, asked, in July 2020, that this share is increased to 40%, almost twice as much.
And to give weight to this recommendation, Sony chairman Kenichiro Yoshida reportedly said, according to the Financial Times, that, in the absence of a massive commitment in this direction, it would have to relocate its factories outside of Japan. Rather than using electricity produced from gas or coal, this is not trivial for a baron of Japanese industry. Mr. Yoshida was not suddenly blinded by the light of God, like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, but pushed by some of his clients.
And especially Apple. Not content with claiming to be carbon neutral in its own activities since 2018, the American company announced last July that all of its suppliers should be 100% carbon-free by 2030. However, Sony provides in its Japanese factories iPhone photo sensors. Not far from there, the Taiwanese TSMC, which manufactures Apple’s electronic chips, has bought all of the production of a huge maritime wind farm project, with the capacity of a nuclear power plant, built by the Danish Orsted off the coast of the island.
Like Taiwan, Japan is therefore being pushed by its most powerful industrialists to speed up the maneuver. The message has been understood by the new government of Yoshihide Suga. This has set carbon neutrality as a horizon in 2050, thus following in the footsteps of the European Union. Difficult task. Japan imports more than 90% of the energy it consumes, and the Fukushima nuclear accident has seriously reduced its ambitions in the civilian atom.
It therefore greedily consumes gas, oil and coal, delivered by ship from the Middle East, Australia or elsewhere. Switching massively to wind or solar, as Sony and its friends invite it, is not easy given the mountainous topography of the country and its meticulous regulations regarding land use.
Hence the interview granted by the Minister of Administrative Reform, Taro Kono, to Financial Times, Friday November 27. It was he who sold the wick on Sony’s intentions, just to put pressure on his own administration. Objective, to reduce authorization requests for solar and wind power, which are unable to develop outside the sea coasts. But environmentalists are suddenly no longer in complete agreement and invoke the threat to biodiversity. The road to energy transition is a path of roses studded with thorns.