About a year ago, Japan was struck by a giant earthquake and subsequent tsunami. One of the ‘fall-outs’ of this natural event was the shut down of several nuclear reactors. Eventually, the Japanese government shut down around 50 of its reactor plants, which I think was close to all of them. Some of these were shut down for maintenance and may come back online at some point; others are being retired permanently. The consequence, at least from an energy perspective, is that a major source of domestically produced energy has evaporated as Japan generated about one-third of its power from nuclear.
I recall a history course I once took which outlined how one of the greatest periods of innovation and invention in history was during World War Two. A period of turmoil, war and strife generated massive innovation as governments were forced to come up with quick solutions to production, automation and energy supply. I’m not saying that every innovation was a step forward but that out of the crucible of difficult times came a remarkable period of human ingenuity and invention.
It appears as though the same is happening in Japan. With much of their nuclear power offline (and more reactors ready for shutdown), the Japanese have accelerated their development of alternate energy, particularly geothermal and solar. One of the largest pioneers in their solar industry is a steel company! With massive amounts of energy required for the production of steel, this company recognizes that they can dramatically improve their bottom line and thereby shareholder returns by investing in large-scale solar power generation.
It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out in Japan over the next few years. Similarly, I wonder if we will examine our own energy usage domestically, from both a consumption and source perspective, and see what direction we’ll follow.