A view of the Solar Techno Park's HyperHelios near Yokohama.
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.
I just finished watching a documentary titled Crude Impact. The main theme was our continued use of fossil fuels and the approaching ‘deadline’ of peak oil which is basically the time at which global production of fossil fuels begins to decline and can’t increase (due to reserves being depleted). For the most part, the movie was quite good; it had a bit of the scare tactics of non-mainstream documentaries (quiet, serious narration etc.) but the content was useful and interesting. Sometimes it’s easy to just think that the problem is too big or that one person can’t make a difference but what I took from the documentary is that it is precisely the individual who does make the difference.
Some of the minor key changes we can make are to shop locally and sustainably, for things we really need, not those which society dictates we acquire. I learned that food production is one of the number one consumers of fossil fuels; gas for farm machinery, petroleum products for fertilizers and pesticides, fuel for transportation and distribution and so on. This morning, I ate a few grapes for breakfast without even thinking about where they came from and how much it actually cost in terms of energy (and subsequent pollution etc.) to get them to my fridge. They probably came from Chile or California. Think that it doesn’t make much of a difference? It takes 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of energy available in the average ‘home-cooked meal’. We can reduce this massively by shopping at local bakeries, farm markets and other sources. Not only does it reduce energy consumption, we get healthier products and help to sustain local economies.
Take a few minutes to watch the movie; I think you can get it either from the actual site or from the library as well. If nothing else, it will make you a little more aware of the energy in your life!
Categories: Commentary, General interest
Tags: alternate energy, Crude Impact, energy, peak oil, petroleum, solar, sustainable living, The Corporation, Walden, wind