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Japan Replaced Half Its Nuclear Power With Energy Efficiency. Could The U.S. Do Something Similar?

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan didn’t only shut down the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, it caused Japan to close all 50 of its nuclear plants over safety concerns and to reconsider its entire energy strategy for the rest of the century. Before the disaster Japan got about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and had plans to raise that to about half by 2050. To replace that energy, Japan had to look elsewhere, both domestically and abroad. Japan doesn’t have its own significant fossil fuel reserves, and so it must import oil and gas — an expensive and environmentally unfriendly approach for a country that has prided itself on leading the fight against climate change. To help offset this, Japan also established a lucrative feed-in tariff for solar power that lead to a rapid growth in installations.

But replacing nearly one-third of their energy supply — especially going into peak summer demand — was not a realistic option, and the population braced for rolling blackouts to accompany the crippling impacts of the tsunami and earthquake. The government and the people also turned to another option, energy efficiency and conservation. A campaign called ‘setsuden’ (power saving) was established to generate support. It worked, and by allowing dressed-down outfits and rotating air-conditioning schedules, the country averted blackouts. But many worried that this short-term effort would prove to be just that, and that in the long-term an elevated demand for electricity would return, once again taxing the system.
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