When does energy efficiency become demand destruction? Japan knows

A recent Bloomberg article reported that electric power utilities in Japan are now emitting record levels of greenhouse gases because they are forbidden to restart nuclear plants that were taken off-line in the hysteria over the casualty-free Fukushima meltdowns of March 2011.

Japan’s fifty-odd reactors represent nearly 49,000 megawatts of generating capacity, and have historically generated over 290 billion kilowatt-hours annually. All the generators in Japan produce collectively between 900 billion and 1 trillion kWh; the amount has inched upward over the past decade.

But now that almost all of the country’s nuclear generators are offline, Japanese utilities have dramatically expanded electricity generation from their fleet of fossil generators, which mostly run on oil or natural gas.

The Bloomberg article says that Japanese utilities belched an extra 65.7 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the year following the earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima meltdowns. That would mean that those utilities generated only around 113 billion kWh with fossil generators (113 billion kWh x .6 kiligrams of CO2 per kWh = roughly 65.7 million metric tonnes), where prior to the nuclear shutdown they generated over 290 billion.

In other words, Japan is not only making do with less electricity, it is dumping more CO2 into the atmosphere by making do with less. That is the difference between nuclear and fossil.

Note that none of the “green” lobby’s fond predictions of increased wind and solar generation have made a bit of a difference. The Washington Post just reported that electricity shortages and rationing are causing severe strain in Japan. Japanese residences and businesses are already among the most energy efficient in the world. Any further reductions in electricity consumption are now coming at the cost of convenience and foregoing of the basic amenities and necessities of modern life. There comes a point where energy efficiency becomes demand destruction. Keep that in mind next time you hear “green” activists talking about energy efficiency.

So Japan faces a stark choice. To get the electric power its businesses and citizens require, it can build new CO2-belching fossil generators running on imported liquefied natural gas. Or it can restart the nuclear fleet, which has proven itself over decades to be a safe and reliable source of CO2-free power.

Doing the latter would require backing off Japan’s fondness for nuclear hyperbole. The country has milked the Hiroshima horse for decades: pointing up the alleged injustice of the U.S. bombings during the Second World War. That annual milking has begun to wear thin on observers like Ian Baruma, who told CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel how the annual Hiroshima ceremonies are a sentimentalized commemoration of blameless victimhood, though some tepid acknowledgement of Japan’s atrocities against Chinese and Koreans has recently emerged in the form of another museum. But generally the victim myth pervades the ceremonies. Pearl Harbor is rarely acknowledged as a legitimate casus belli for the U.S. Pearl Harbor, for those who have forgotten, occurred as the result of the American oil embargo against Japan. Why did the U.S. slap an oil embargo on Japan? Because of Japanese atrocities against Chinese and Koreans, and because the Americans learned that Japan was planning the general military conquest of all of southeast Asia.

The Hiroshima ceremonies are much loved by some here in the west, who ignore the far-greater casualties inflicted by conventional chemical explosives during the war. To acknowledge that fact would introduce nuance into their moralistic positions, and nuance only ruins the self-righteous rush that simple-minded moralism produces.

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James Greenidge
8 years ago

Very pleased you tread the forbidden turf about Japan using Hiroshima as a canard to banish nuclear power and keeping their people surprisingly nuclear power illiterate to become so susceptible to wild fears. The logical, rational, safety and civil reasons for shutting down scores of perfectly good reactors that have hurt no one nor put anyone in peril is utterly insane. It makes as much sense as thousands protesting nuclear power for casualties and devastation that never happened; in a way they have it backwards, so twisted the passions. They’d better be careful what they wish for, for all they’ll do is condemn themselves, their kids and future generations to continuous fossil fuel pollution and respiratory aliments, along with razing lovely landscapes and shorelines to accommodate a blight of monstrous wind stalks, just so to assuage fears of Doomsday whose credence dissolved 3x chances with Fukushima’s anti-climatic super-quake induced accident. One must wonder, doesn’t Japan get it? That they’re staring a energy gift horse in the mouth and want to slaughter it? Is there no media or press outlet over there with the guts to buck the hysterical tide and express these realities? Is Noda going buckle under the shrill cries of fearful people who have no responsibility for the welfare of that nation and throw them back fifty years? What happened to Japan’s gung-ho attitude that built an umber-technological nation? Did it finally crack with that earthquake?

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Steve Aplin
8 years ago

James, thanks. The anti-nuke movement in Japan is the most hyperbolic when it comes to conflating bombs with electricity. In that respect they are almost identical to the German antis. Both in my opinion represent a troubling interpretation of the Second World War. In the German case, that interpretation is directly counter to the official one, which acknowledges Germany’s predominant role in both starting the war and prosecuting it with inhuman brutality. I think we could say that the anti-nuke movements in both Germany and Japan are fueled by resentment at having lost. Sure, they pretend to be pacifists, but for pacifists they sure are aggressively moralistic. Their aggressive moralism, together with the fact that their doctrine, if you can call it that, is just about utterly devoid of common sense and rational argument—in fact, they seem to revel in flouting rationality—reminds me of the ideologies that characterized their WWII governments.

On the other hand, the fact that both countries embraced nuclear energy after the war shows, to me, that there are segments of society that are capable of rising above primal resentment and just solving problems. That represents a capability for transcendence that ought to be acknowledged and celebrated. I am confident that that segment of society will prevail in the current energy wars, but sometimes, when I reflect on mankind’s history, I wonder.

donb
8 years ago

My headline for this posting would have been When does energy efficiency become energy starvation?

I see no problem if, for example, we substitute compact fluorescent and LED lights for incandescents and destroy some demand (though the Jevons Paradox indicates that the demand destruction is either much smaller than anticipated, or possibly demand increases). There is no decrease in the standard of living.

Energy starvation is another matter. In this case, energy demand goes down because of a diminished standard of living.

Steve Aplin
8 years ago
Reply to  donb

Don, good point. But I have to quibble with you on CFLs and LEDs. For two reasons. First, I have yet to find a CFL or LED that I can comfortably read by. I find their light quality lousy.

Second, why would I care if incandescents are “inefficient” light producers because they convert most electricity to heat? In the winter, that’s clean heat. Usually the alternative is natural gas. Our — Ontario’s — emission intensity of electricity generation has to be greater than 200 grams of CO2 per kWh for gas to be the better environmental alternative. Right now it’s 159 g/kWh.

I know it’s summer, but still.

P.S. Guess what’s driving UP our emission intensity of electricity generation? Natural gas!

donb
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

Steve-

I have seen some rather poor CFLs as well. I haven’t really used LEDs yet. The problem I found early on with CFLs is that the light output for “watts equivalent” is optomistic, confirmed both by my eyes and by a photographic light meter. In my case, an acceptable solution is to use the next size up, e.g., a “75 watts equivalent” CFL to substitute for a 60 watt incandescent lamp. Also, make the substitution only in multi-lamp fixtures, using CFLs from various manufacturers to get a better color index.

I live in Spokane, Washington, so the heat output of lights and appliances is not wasted 8 to 9 months of the year. Especially so during the coldest days of winter when my electric heat pump can’t provide enough heat and the resistance boost comes on. At that point, efficiency of lights etc. makes no difference at all.

Unfortunately, only one of four planned nuclear power plants in Eastern Washington was completed. To fill in the generation gap (and to support intermittant wind power) more natural gas turbines have come on line.

James Greenidge
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

Funny sideline here:

During two winters ago here in New York City metro (and last short one), we suffered incredible traffic jams and slowdowns and accidents during snow storms because motorists couldn’t see traffic lights or lighted traffic direction signs! The reason? They were converted to LEDs and so couldn’t melt off the snow and ice building around and encasing them like standard incandescents did! NYC had to pay highways and parks department fleets mucho overtime to clean traffic signals in falling snow all night long! Is this a model of progress’s unintended consequences or no??

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Steve Aplin
8 years ago

James, that is hilarious — did anyone every tally up the GHGs released by the cherry picker trucks that carried parks dept. employees around and hoisted them up to scrape ice off the lights?

James Greenidge
8 years ago
Reply to  Steve Aplin

I don’t know about the GHG’s, but I’m pretty sure that if it hasn’t already that NYC will see fit that each LED signal has some kind of heater in it for the next bad snow storm. Boy, being PC sure is $$$!

James Greenidge
Queens NY