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Costs continue to act as drag on use of renewable energy

This photo taken on Jan. 22, 2019 shows a supermarket operated by Co-op Sapporo in Sapporo's Teine Ward. (Kyodo)

SAPPORO (Kyodo) -- Co-op Sapporo, a consumer cooperative in Sapporo, Hokkaido, joined the RE100 international alliance of companies committed to using 100 percent renewable electricity for their operations in October, about a month after a major earthquake caused a blackout across Japan's northernmost main island.

    The blackout was triggered by a failed emergency step designed to prevent exactly what happened after the magnitude 6.7 earthquake at the critical Tomato-Atsuma power plant, a coal-fired facility, which was supplying nearly half Hokkaido's electricity.

    The shutdown of the plant, with a total power output of 1.65 million kilowatts, upset the balance of supply and demand for electricity and caused the blackout. As a result, Co-op Sapporo was forced to dispose of food waste, among other losses, because its cold storage system failed to work.

    Co-op Sapporo has reduced emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) at a 3,000-square-meter supermarket it operates in Teine Ward, Sapporo, by 40 percent in comparison with its other supermarkets as it used environment-friendly materials in building the wooden structure, according to the cooperative. CO2 emissions when the market is open for operation have also been cut by half.

    As a medium-term target, Co-op Sapporo will seek to secure 60 percent of energy used in its offices and stores from renewable sources by fiscal 2030.

    Although Co-op Sapporo had planned to join the RE100 alliance even before the earthquake, the blackout "made us recognize the need for expanding diversified sources of renewable energy," an official in charge said.

    The RE100 group had 14 Japanese members as of Jan. 28, including leading office equipment maker Ricoh Co. as the first of them. "As overseas companies are giving great consideration to corporate policy positions, we see the use of renewable energy as a business chance," a Ricoh official said.

    Now that efforts against global warming have become an international trend, an organization serving as the RE100 initiative's liaison office in Japan said, "Global warming is a risk that shakes the premise of economic activities."

    The fight against global warming is also expected to attract investment from all over the world.

    In December, a group of 415 institutional investors with a total of 32 trillion dollars under management issued a statement urging governments around the world to step up their efforts to meet the climate change goals set by the Paris Agreement.

    But as renewable energy sources account for little more than 10 percent of electric power generation in Japan, the availability of electricity from them in the market is limited even though Japanese companies are eager to increase the use of renewable electricity.

    According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, furthermore, the cost of installing solar panels and wind power generators in Japan is 1.5 to 2 times higher than in the United States and European countries.

    While the price of coal-fired thermal power per calorie is the lowest among fossil fuels, the government's basic energy plan positions coal as advantageous in terms of stable supply and economics, although it emits more CO2 when combusted than other fossil fuels.

    "Ideally, an upgrading and expansion of policy to promote the use of renewal energy sources, prodded by calls and action by businesses, should lower the cost of them," said Yuichiro Nakamura, a Mizuho Information & Research Institute consultant familiar with environmental problems.

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