Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Asia Super-Regional Grid Plan - Softbank Signs MOU with Korea, China, Russia Entities

Since the Fukushima disaster at least and the re-birth of discussion about Japan's electricity system and low penetration of renewables, there has been floating around an idea to establish a regional grid that would link Japan to other countries in Asia and, for example, allow wind energy in Mongolia or Hokkaido to provide electricity to factories in Japan or Korea.

Softbank's slide/idea -- showing retail electricity prices in the various locales.
Finally, last week, Softbank (whose CEO/founder, Masayoshi Son, is the driver of this idea in Japan through the Renewable Energy Institute (fka Japan Renewable Energy Foundation)) has signed an MOU with KEPCO of Korea, and Chinese and Russian grid operators, to conduct feasibility studies the idea.

So why are the China, Russia and Korea members of this team dominant in their respective fields -- grid operators -- but Softbank a newcomer, not directly involved with operating the grid in Japan? Perhaps the geopolitics of the idea give pause to the conservative Abe administration?  What if the Chinese turn off the interconnect, they must ask? Do they really want to be reliant on China and Korea to keep the lights on?

That said, if the idea proves economically feasible (indeed, a way to CUT electricity cost toward the Asia regional level longer term), accelerates introduction of clean energy throughout the region, reduces air pollution flowing to Japan from the continent (China), and if other parts of the world are integrating renewables onto the grid at a very high percentage of supply based on similar wide area grids, it may ultimately prove difficult for Japan to resist resist an idea that also happens to promote regional political and economic integration.

I am not holding my breath, but kudos to Son-san for not dropping his bold idea.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

NY Times Editorial Board - "A Renewable Energy Boom"

When I was a regular reader of print newspapers back in the last century, I used to enjoy the pre-Murdock Wall Street Journal's editorial page.  They would propose sometimes audacious, outrageous things.  They would take crazy "conservative" positions.  Sometimes I felt as if my blood would boil.

The New York Times editorials ... not so much.

A typical NY Times editorial would expound that education is good; crime is bad; that we all should volunteer more to help our communities.  The NY Times editorial board would endorse proven, mainstream political candidates.  Yawn.

So when an April 4, 2016 New York Times editorial announces that we are entering a "renewable energy boom", citing a written-by-committee consensus UN report , you know that renewables are no longer a "fringe" source of energy.

Indeed, as the editorial notes, a majority of the generation added last year GLOBALLY was in renewables, more than half of total new renewables investment last year occurred in China, India and Brazil -- the big developing markets that will make or break efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions -- and renewables, including hydro, share of global electricity production has doubled from 2007 to 2015, while costs are dropping like a rock. By 2020, solar PV will be cheaper in India than new coal-fired generation.

(In such an environment what investor in his or her right mind would commit to a new coal-fired plant?)

These facts are now commonplace.  Governments and companies: ignore them at your peril.

P.S. If the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) is a bit suspect for the typical somewhat conservative U.S. senator or, say, Wall Street banker, how about Bloomberg?