Energy a hot topic in East and West

Updated On: Jun 09, 2011

Nuclear and energy issues continue to occupy the news in both Asia and the West. Yesterday, Japan submitted a new report to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Japan admitted they were not prepared for an accident like the one at Fukushima. They also revealed that reactor damage and radiation leakage was worse than previously thought.

Report: Japan acknowledges it was unprepared for severe accident like tsunami-hit nuclear plant [AP, 7 June 2011]

Over in Switzerland, lawmakers have approved a proposal to phase out nuclear power, following Germany's lead.

A majority in Switzerland's lower house voted to shut down the country's five nuclear reactors by 2034. The plan still needs another round of approval from Switzerland's upper house of parliament, but the government is in favour of the scheme.

Report: Swiss lawmakers OK plan to phase out nuclear power [Associated Press, 8 June 2011]

Currently, Switzerland gets almost 40 percent of its power from nuclear energy, with hydroelectric dams supplying most of the rest. Opponents have warned that abandoning nuclear power will be a massive strain, raising costs for consumers and making Switzerland more dependent on foreign fuels.

Germany faces a similar struggle to keep the lights on.

Last week, Germany announced the closure of eight nuclear reactors by the end of this year, accounting for about 8 percent of Germany's power supply. The other German reactors will follow by 2022.

Analysis: Berlin bets big on renewable energy [Financial Times, 8 June 2011]

The question now is whether Germany will be able to find new energy sources and still meet its goal to cut carbon emissions. Germany is currently the world's largest industrial exporter.

German leaders aim to convert to renewable energy, but experts warn that Germany will have to resort to natural gas in the short-to-medium term.

Report: US solar power nears competing on price [Financial Times, 8 June 2011]

However, in a boost to the renewable energy industry, top US solar companies have announced that solar power will have a similar cost to fossil fuels in the US within the next three years. Industry figures claim solar power will be competitive with gas and oil without needing tax discounts from the US government.

Solar power costs have already dropped about 60 percent in the past five years due to technological advances, manufacturing efficiency, and tighter profit margins.

Report: China ends wind power subsidies after US challenge [BBC News, 8 June 2011]

Meanwhile, China has agreed to halt subsidies to wind power manufacturers that violate World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. The move comes after a US union complained to the WTO. However, analysts say the decision will not slow down the development of China's renewable energy sector.

"Chinese wind power companies have reached a stage that, regardless of subsidies, they will head out and aim for overseas markets if there are opportunities," said analyst Dennis Lam from DBS Vickers.

Report: Opec holds oil production as BP says energy demand rose [BBC News, 8 June 2011]

Renewable energy is under increased scrutiny following Japan's nuclear incident, concerns over climate change, and current high oil prices.

According to a new report from BP, global oil consumption rose by 3.1% last year, the fastest increase since 2004. Most of the increased demand continued to come from China.

The report came as members of the Opec oil cartel failed to agree on increasing oil production as a way of lowering prices. Opec ministers met in Vienna yesterday, with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states asking for increased output to limit rising oil costs. But Venezuela, Iran, Algeria and Libya objected to the move.

As a result, oil prices rose again on fears of limited supply.

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