Japan taps into power of volcanoes with geothermal energy plants

Japan has announced plans to build its first new geothermal power stations in nearly two decades in a bid to tap the nation’s domestic energy sources.

A string of geothermal power plants are to be developed by a number of firms keen to capitalise on the active volcanic landscape that spans the country, while the government is also currently compiling guidelines supporting the development of such energy sources.

Home to 108 active volcanoes – ten per cent of the world’s active volcanoes – Japan is in a prime position to tap into underground geothermal energy sources.

As a nation with few natural resources, Japan has long been dependent on importing substantial quantities of crude oil and natural gas. The country’s renewed focus on geothermal energy marks a desired shift away from its dependency on imported energy sources which has made it susceptible to increasingly volatile prices.

Geothermal power plants also emit significantly less carbon dioxide.

A string of new projects to be started this year include a geothermal power plant to be constructed in Yuzawa in Akita Prefecture, northern Japan, by Mitsubisi Materials and J-Power.

The £300.5 million (40 billion yen) project will tap into hot water and steam around 2,000 metres below the surface, and will aim to generate up to 60,000 kW of power when it begins operating in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is establishing a study group of industry experts and academics to compile by April this year a list of steps supporting the development of geothermal power stations, with proposed measures including financial assistance to launch new projects.

While it was after the 1970s oil crisis that the nation first began investing in geothermal power stations as an alternative energy source, their development was eventually eclipsed by the rise of nuclear power.

Today, there are currently 18 geothermal power stations in operation in Japan, although there combined output accounts for no more than 0.20 per cent of electricity generated domestically.

By Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo
Last Updated: 4:18AM GMT 05 Jan 2009

Source: The Telegraph

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