Sustainable Development Goal 7 is to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Although we nominally understand that it is good to choose renewable energy, instead of energy derived from fossil fuel, it might be challenging to take concrete actions to realise it.
Against this backdrop, at the 14th SDGs Café we discussed local production and consumption of energy in the Hokuriku region. We invited two experts, Mr. Shinichiro Nagahara and Mr. Akira Taniguchi. Mr. Nagahara is from Kanazawa Civil Power Stations, an organisation that operates solar power stations and a wind power station invested in by groups of citizens in Ishikawa. Mr. Akira Taniguchi is from Ohisama Shinpo Energy, a company that promotes renewable energy and energy-saving business. They introduced the good practices of citizen-owned power plants in Japan.
This SDGs Café consisted of four sessions. First, Ms. Mikiko Nagai, Office Manager of OUIK, gave an opening greeting and introduction to the webinar. Secondly, Mr. Nagahara gave a presentation, titled “Achieving sustainable society through the power of citizens! The case of Kanazawa Civil Power Stations”, introducing the activities of his organisation. Thirdly, Mr. Taniguchi gave a presentation, titled “Local production and consumption through renewable energy to enrich communities”, introducing examples of the renewable energy sector’s efforts in Japan, specifically the Hokuriku region, and Germany, as well as the case of Iida City, Nagano Prefecture. Finally, a panel discussion was held with Ms. Nagai and the two experts to discuss the business models of citizen-owned power plants, their equipment, and their policies. The panel also made comments on the system of renewable energy service delivery in Kanazawa city.
Mr. Nagahara defines the civil power station as a system in which individual citizens and local communities invest, build, and operate renewable energy projects by themselves to achieve local production and consumption of energy in the region. The idea was widespread in Japan in 2012 when the law for the feed-in-tariff was brought into effect in Japan.
After visiting Denmark in 2005 to learn about their wind power plant systems, more than 80 per cent of which are owned by local co-operatives, Mr. Nagahara decided to start a project to construct a wind power plant in Ishikawa. The investment from citizens covered around 300 million of the 500 million Japanese yen needed for its construction costs. Through his experiences with the project, he recognised that the citizens’ consciousness is essential to proceed with environmentally friendly city development.
Since then, he has developed some renewable energy plants in Ishikawa, from solar power energy plants to a woody biomass power plant. Mr. Nagahara hopes that Kanazawa will become an environmentally friendly city resilient to disasters thanks to the spread of zero-energy houses by 2030. A zero-energy house is a housing energy system where the produced energy becomes higher than the primary energy consumption by combining energy saving, renewable energy production, and energy storage, contributing to greenhouse gas reduction. Mr. Nagahara concluded that the primary purpose of his addressing environmental problems is to contribute to the prevention of global warming, and that zero-energy houses are reasonable solutions to it.
Mr. Taniguchi said that Japan should produce more biomass energy, as it is rich in biomass, referring to the example of Sweden, where a company supplies heat by delivering hot water derived from biomass fuel. Also, referring to the case of Germany, where individuals and farmers’ investments occupy almost 60 percent of the total installed capacity in renewable energy, Mr. Taniguchi claimed that citizens’ participation is essential to spread renewable energy. He also mentioned that notably, commercial motivation encourages citizens to invest.
Mr. Taniguchi also introduced the case of the citizen-owned power plant in Iida City, where a company procures and installs solar power panels using a fund financed by citizens from all over Japan. The company sells the produced power directly to the facilities with the installed solar panels. The fund was paid off in 15 years. The project was made possible due to the longer term and the exceptional purchase price in the power purchase agreement shrewdly decided by the Iida City administration. Another benefit is that the solar power projects contribute to revitalising the regional economy, as research forecasts that the potential accumulation of economic value added to the region through the project will reach 1.7 billion Japanese yen by 2030. Mr. Taniguchi emphasised that the most crucial step was to produce energy helpful for the region by themselves with the support of the municipal government and local regulations.
Finally, a panel discussion was held with Ms. Nagai, Mr. Nagahara and Mr. Taniguchi to discuss the issues related to local production and consumption of energy. The panel raised several interesting points as discussion topics.
Concerning the conflict of interest between citizen-owned power plants and large electricity companies, one of the answers was that the relationship is not like competitors, but rather like business partners when citizen-owned power plants sell a small amount of electricity. To the question of how large electricity companies’ business models will change when zero-energy houses are widespread, large electricity companies can still keep seven-tenths of the electricity market as the electricity for industrial use occupies around 70 percent.
Also, obstacles to proceeding with policies to allow installing solar panels on roofs of public facilities were discussed. Such policies have not yet been promoted in Ishikawa Prefecture and Kanazawa City, while Iida City has already advanced such policies. It is uncommon for public facilities to lease their roofs for solar power to electricity providers in some municipalities, and even in cases where the installation of panels is allowed, with the initial cost being double the ordinary price, it becomes a burden to the municipalities. As such, it is crucial to develop a partnership model with the private sector.
Lastly, the panel discussed Kanazawa City’s decision to request a private company to operate a hydropower plant and a gas power plant owned by the city, as the hydropower plant operates financially healthily while the gas power plant struggles. The panel pointed out that the hydropower plant should be operated over a long period without being bound by immediate profits, as citizens of Kanazawa City might be proud of its existence in the city. Also, the importance of the philosophy of the operation and the sustainability of operating organisations was pointed out.