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Sunday, May 29, 2005

SMALLER IS BETTER

U.S. author pushes alternative energy


Staff writer

Japan should promote small-scale power generation systems based on renewable energy, which are more economical, safe and environmentally friendly than huge nuclear and thermal power plants, according to an American energy expert.

News photo
Amory B. Lovins, chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, gives an interview in Tokyo.

Amory B. Lovins, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, said Japan's huge and diverse potential in renewable energy can be developed to the point of meeting all of the country's energy needs.

Speaking at a lecture in Tokyo last week, Lovins also said Japan should actively use its world-leading technology in solar power and fuel cells to develop advanced renewable power systems.

The physicist's NPO conducts research and consultation on the use of natural energy resources.

In Japan, thermal power plants supplied 63 percent of all electricity generated in fiscal 2003, while nuclear power plants generated 26 percent, according to the government.

Power from such renewable sources as solar and wind accounted for only 0.5 percent.

Lovins recently visited Japan to give lectures and consultations on energy systems to several companies and to promote the Japanese translation of his book, "Small is Profitable: The Hidden Economic Benefits of Making Electrical Resources the Right Size," which went on sale here earlier this month. The original version was published in 2002.

In the book, Lovins explains that building small power stations based on renewable energy in numerous cities and towns is more beneficial than operating huge nuclear and thermal power plants in rural areas that transmit electricity to distant areas.

He said small-scale systems which supply electricity in nearby areas are inexpensive to construct and operate when compared with large power systems, which require a lot of money to operate plants and maintain facilities, including power lines, to transmit power to remote areas.

As an example, Lovins referred to a rooftop solar system installed at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California, in 2002.

Solar panels cover the facility's 12,140 sq. meters of roof area and generate 1.46 gigawatt hours of electricity a year, resulting in a savings of $15 million over 25 years in combination with the facility's efficient lighting and air-conditioning systems, according to Lovins.

"The sun is distributed free to everybody every day very reliably," he said.

Major Japanese power companies say renewable energy is unreliable because output changes in accordance with the weather.

But Lovins said combining various kinds of renewable power systems can back each other up.

"If you continue to gather a third of all your electricity in Japan from nuclear plants, this puts you in a very difficult position, because you may want to shut down your nuclear plants (for safety reasons) but are not able to," he said.



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