Who’s holding it back? Ben developing geothermal energy
Bathing in hot springs is a favorite way of leisure for the Japanese. There are tens of thousands of hot spring hotels and bathhouses in this country, either built on the mountains or located on the scenic coast, some of which have a history of several centuries.
Most of these facilities rely on Japan’s abundant geothermal energy. It has long been argued that Japan is sitting on so many geothermal resources that, if used to generate electricity, its potential could surpass that of nuclear power.
However, for decades, Japan’s ambition to develop geothermal energy has never been able to break through obstacles.
”Rampant geothermal development is a threat to our culture.” Yoshiyasu Sato, owner of Daimaru Asuka-so, a hot spring hotel in Fukushima Prefecture, told the US “New York Times” that his shop has a history of 1,300 years. Who will pay for it?”
For decades, hotel owners represented by Sato have resisted the development of geothermal energy, fearing that it would destroy their hot spring business. The energy of these people is beyond imagination, and government officials, power giants, and manufacturing giants are not opponents. The well-known Tokyo Electric Power Company has only one geothermal power plant in Japan, accounting for 0.1% of its power generation. The company has been forced to abandon many geothermal projects over the past few decades.
According to the New York Times, the geothermal power plant draws energy from deep water sources and is unlikely to affect the hot springs. Some hot springs stop flowing inexplicably, and the cause is often difficult to determine. “We have not yet fully understood the full consequences of geothermal energy development.” Said Yuki Yuki, emeritus professor of geothermal science at Kyoto University.
As the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, Japan urgently needs geothermal, a renewable energy source that is safe, environmentally friendly, low-cost, and capable of generating electricity around the clock. The Japanese government hopes to triple geothermal power generation capacity by 2030. Tokyo’s “Sustainable Energy Policy Research Institute” said that if Japan used all traditional geothermal resources for power generation, it could provide about 10% of the country’s electricity.
The development of geothermal energy has many benefits, but the Japanese local government has introduced a new round of restrictive measures. For example, Kusatsu, a hot spring resort town north of Tokyo, passed an ordinance last year requiring developers to certify that geothermal projects will not affect local hot springs. For enterprises, this is an almost insurmountable obstacle.
”We understand the country’s energy needs,” said Feng Seki, executive director of the National Onsen Association, which represents the hotel industry across Japan. “We’re not against for the sake of being against,” he says, “but we strongly warn against the uncontrolled and large-scale development of geothermal energy.” In 1966, Japan opened its first
large commercial geothermal power plant. In the next few decades, more than 10 geothermal power plants settled in various parts of Japan. The country has seen little new geothermal capacity added since the 1990s amid a backlash from spa hotels.
Although Japanese manufacturing giants such as Toshiba dominate the global market for geothermal energy turbines, they do little business in Japan.
Signs of change appear to be emerging. According to the “Japan Times”, in 2019, Japan’s first new large-scale geothermal power plant in 23 years was put into use in Yuzawa, a hot spring town in Akita Prefecture, providing power to nearly 100,000 households. It took the factory’s developers 20 years to get locals to accept the geothermal project.
Even so, the project remains controversial. At the end of 2020, a local hot spring inn had to close due to dwindling spring water. The Yuzawa city government insists that geothermal energy development is not the cause.
”I can’t say I’m not worried.” Masami Shibata, owner of a local hot spring hotel, told the Japan Times, but she feels that geothermal energy has become part of Yuzawa. “Coexistence of hot springs and geothermal heat is possible.”