(Panoramic View Reports)
Panoramic View of the Environment and Energy Field (2015)/CRDS-FY2015-FR-02
Executive Summary

The environment and energy issues are important especially in emerging countries. R&D themes in the environment and energy fields can contribute for solving issues in the world.
Following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster, triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, energy supply shortages arose and power saving in every sectors are requested. Renewable energy has great potential from the viewpoint of greenhouse gas emission reduction and energy self-sufficiency. However, many issues remain unsolved, such as the cost and infrastructure (i.e., grid connection) required for introducing and disseminating renewable energy into conventional systems. The increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission, due to the post-quake upsurge in fossil fuel energy consumption, has become a worrisome issue in fulfilling Japan’s international obligation for climate protection. On the other hand, reduction in energy and resources consumption is in a hiatus situation in Japan. This may affect not only the natural ecology by increasing waste and pollution of atmosphere and water, but it also disturbs human surroundings and health.

This report reviews recent trends in the following four categories; “Energy Supply,” “Energy Utilization,” “Nuclear Energy,” and “Environment.” For “Energy Supply,” the energy flow in Japan and the relationship between the amount of imported resources and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are reviewed. Energy demand and supply mechanisms are viewed from an even larger perspective than they were in the 2013 version. In “Energy Utilization,” viewpoint of the energy user is emphasized and the overall mechanisms are re-examined. Furthermore, the “Nuclear Energy” and “Environment” categories, which were not included in the 2013 version, were comprehensively surveyed together with the selection of 92 major research topics that must be tackled in the future. The research topics were organized according to the prospective social expectations and demands.

In terms of energy supply, fossil fuel resources will continue to be the major source of energy supply; dramatic improvements in utilizing these resources and steep cutbacks in CO2 emissions are imperative. Simultaneously, the introduction and promotion of renewable energy is also urgently necessary. However, many obvious issues, such as improving power generation costs or grid connection capacities, are yet to be resolved. The purpose of promoting R&D in this field is to provide the most effective energy combination into the society in general. The essential factors of the research are to maximize the efficient of power generation from various types of energy sources. Comprehensive evaluation of stable supply, economic efficiency, and safety in such process must be considered.

Energy consumption gives ability on our society to enjoy a wide variety of services, which enriches the civic life. Yet, it is inseparable from environmental loading. Continuous efforts to reduce energy consumption and improve efficiency have been implemented in and around the manufacturing industry, while the changes in lifestyle and social structure do not allowed reducing energy consumption in the consumer and transportation sectors. Not only do we need to promote services that have high energy efficiency and develop technology towards a low carbon society, but we must also consider new energy services and develop systems to realize it, together with considering the social technology and institutional design needed for its dissemination.

Nuclear power generation is regarded as an important base load power source in the government’s energy policy. However, due to the impact of the earthquake and nuclear power plant accident, it is difficult to confirm that the national consensus on its future operation has been obtained. Since public opinion is presently divided, we need to extract and organize the various R&D issues by incorporating a wide variety of options without restricting any possibilities for broadly reviewing the future of nuclear power generation from a social perspective.

As for the environment, efforts to reduce environmental load caused by the global increase of urban population is significant. Considering the relationship between human society and ecological services, the preservation and management of biological diversity and genetic resources are important. We must also aim for a recycling society, which will sustainably reduce environmental load caused by production and consumption activities. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, the necessity to make every effort to prevent and reduce disaster was reaffirmed and must be achieved through environmental science based prevention and resolution with damage estimation and post-disaster science and technology for restoring the environment. Observation, measurements, and environmental management, based on such data, will also become necessary to predict any future issues.

Based on the broad survey, the features of the following five regions namely, Japan, USA, Europe, China, and Korea, are summarized as follows;.

In the energy field, the basic technology relating to fossil fuel resources is extremely advanced compared to that of foreign countries. However, the decrease of researchers in certain fields has become an issue. Cooperation between fields is weak; therefore, the creation of new technology tends to lag behind the USA. Application development is carried out extensively, but it is not widespread. As for renewable energy, many basic and applied research projects are currently being conducted with the installation of solar light projects in the lead, since the Feed-in Tariff system was initiated. Still, the projects are lagging behind those of foreign countries. A long-term strategy is desired toward realization of grid parity. In terms of energy utilization, Japan has highly technical competitive power from research to industrialization in the area of next generation vehicles, heat, and hydrogen utilization. In energy management related fields, extensive efforts are made from the development of equipment to operation tests. Energy saving appliances are quite popular. In order to achieve further growth and establish their position, more research is necessary to make energy available to the wider society, prediction techniques, and co-benefit related technology. As a national policy, the long-term perspective to expand business overseas is also important; thus, it is necessary to develop, not only the component technology, but the system as a package, so that it can be widely used abroad. For atomic energy, research related to environmental restoration and radiation impacts are progressing together with research related to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident. Still, research relating to the nuclear fuel cycle is stagnant when compared to pre-quake levels. After the accident, the biggest concern of society is the utilization of nuclear energy and its safety. The government is attempting to build a new consensus by deliberative polling.

In the environment field, there are many component technologies that are leading the R&D and are internationally competitive. However, compared to the USA, unsolved problems, such as interdisciplinary collaboration, comprehensive viewpoints, or overseas business expansion by packaging the system and incorporating the policies, still remain. Due to the financial difficulties, there is the concern about securing research and development budgets, and researchers in this field.

In the energy field, the basic level of fossil fuel resource related technology is high, but the population of researchers is scarce. However, there exists the environment to create new seeds of technology, making it a hopeful market for new technology. The energy supply-demand structure is changing dramatically, due to the production of shale gas oil. In the application and industrialization field, the USA is enhancing its conventional technology by expanding business abroad. In the renewable energy field, both basic and applied research are thriving and industrialization is progressing smoothly. These fields deal with anything from basic research to operation tests related to the energy management of next generation traffic using ICT and big data. From the viewpoint of fostering new industries, research is conducted strategically and broadly from basics to application with the Department of Energy (DOE) at the center. Socio-technical research and operation tests are also progressing, focusing on consumer behavior. There are major social issues related to the fragile energy infrastructure, thus, promoting research related to this matter is regarded as necessary. Since the Three Mile Island accident, a wide variety of research on risk assessments has been conducted. Research on decommissioning, management of spent nuclear fuel, and radioactive waste is continuing. Although not as popular as in Europe, the development and trial of a participatory decision-making approach is lively.
In the environment field, various advanced national projects, worthy of attention, have been implemented and are strong in a broad area from basic to applied research and development. The information infrastructure is the most advanced in the world, transmitting and providing knowledge accumulated from continuous R&D.

In the energy field, big projects such as FP7 and Horizon2020 are progressing continuously with industry-academia collaboration. The projects are well balanced in basic and applied research and industrialization, with many participants. Europe is actively introducing renewable energy as a social system and is proceeding to industrialize offshore wind power and geothermal generation. They have built a regional network for electricity and gas, which includes Eastern Europe and Russia. They have competitive advantages on research related to energy management, co-benefit research, and social technology. R&D on next generation vehicles is slightly behind the USA and Japan. Although there are many countries wishing to continue and those who wish to withdraw their use of nuclear reactors, general research and industrialization is highly advanced. Development and trial of a participatory decision-making approach is active together with its research.

In the environment field, in addition to the efforts made by each country, there is a comprehensive effort being made by the EU. From the broadness in the corresponding fields and the R&D, to the actual implementation in society and applied phases, they all tend to be comprehensively developed and have the power to adapt to the real world.

In the energy field, the basic level of research in areas related to fossil fuels is not very high, but technology introduction is made possible by the intensive fund investment that still continues. Though the use of conventional solar light technology is increasing smoothly, R&D of next-generation solar batteries is minimal. As with Korea, technical transfer from overseas is speedy and domestic R&D infrastructure is enhancing. China produces a large number of heat utilization equipment, such as heat pumps, and solar heat utilization equipment, establishing one of the global factories in the world. Efforts for smart city operation tests, technology transfer from overseas, and the reinforcement of domestic research with the return of students who studied in the USA or Europe adds to research level improvement. Since a dramatic increase in energy consumption is predicted with a rise in living standards, it will become necessary to vigorously promote technical development, policy, and systems, in light of the associated environmental issues.

China is very positive about introducing nuclear power generation; therefore, research on the whole is active, but disaster prevention and decommissioning appears to be insufficient. Interest in research related to nuclear energy and society has risen, yet it is difficult to compare with other countries due to their different political systems.

In the environment field, there are still many stages where technology is yet to be applied, but China has shown remarkable progress after going through multiple stages. Both the environment and economy are now considered important. This principle is reflected in the present policy, which stresses the environment as a priority. China now benefits from projects that cost billions.

In the field of energy, Korea has a very weak presence in areas related to fossil fuel resource, except for in the steel industry. Korea shows no particular competitive edge in the overall basic and applied research compared to other countries, but it is extremely capable in applying individual component technology towards practical use. In the industrialization phase, such as fuel-cell vehicles or storage batteries, one can see high development capability. Construction of a domestic renewable energy system can be realized in the future, as was the case in Japan. However, Korea excels at executing the government strategic policies that focus on overseas expansion. We must also consider the execution power of business. In the atomic energy field, research related to the storage and management of nuclear waste is progressing. In the background, there is the near term crisis of storage space shortage in Korea. Research on risk assessment and sodium-cooled reactors is comparatively progressing. The state of research on atomic energy and society is the same as that of Japan.

In the environment field, there are many aspects where technology is still in the preparation stage. For instance, Korea has a system where they strongly pursue distinctive fields, such as water, in a top-down manner. In such regions, funds are invested intensively, so the possibility exists for sudden future development. Cutting-edge research in limited areas can also be found.