“Solar Economy” just around corner
Yasuyo Yamazki foresees end of oil-dependent society

December 01, 2008 Yasuyo Yamazaki

As environmental problems draw increasing attention, harnessing of solar energy is receiving renewed interest. Yasuyo Yamazaki, an economic analyst, predicts that our oil-dependent society will come to an end, then rapidly develop into a new one which utilizes solar energy, causing changes in industrial structures and bringing the world’s economy into the “solar economy” era. (Interviewer: Hiroyuki Tsuruoka)

JBpress: Could you explain the reason why you think we should shift our economic model as rapidly as possible?

Yamazaki: Considering the future of the global economy, we seem to have a problem that is even more serious than the financial crisis: energy shortage accompanying the rise of China and India.

India and China have a combined population of about 2.5 billion people: twenty times that of Japan. In addition, the amount of energy required to produce one dollar’s worth of GDP in China is nine times greater than in Japan. This means that if these two nations achieve an income level as high as Japan, they will use 180 times the amount of energy of Japan.

In the 20th century, our economy was sustained by oil. We have utilized oil to produce cars and airplanes, to promote industries such as steel and chemicals, and to obtain electric energy from thermal power generation. The computer industry depends on oil as well.

However, now that it is obvious that an oil-dependent economy will not last, we must give our economy a new framework: the solar economy. We have to rebuild the economy by utilizing the sun as our major energy source.

What kind of change do you think our economy and society will undergo, due to the solar economy?

Yamazaki: Under the solar economy system, electricity is generated by harnessing sunlight, wind, water, etc.

The amount of solar energy falling onto the Earth is estimated to be about five thousand times that of the energy consumed by human beings per annum. We are going to utilize some of that enormous amount of energy.

Actually, it is the Sun that causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall. That means that solar energy provides a common source for wind force power generation, water-power generation and tidal-wave power generation, a technology that utilizes sea waves. Even ethanol made from plants, which is drawing attention these days, has its origin in solar power.

The obtained energy is to be stored in batteries and supplied to remote locations through lossless transmission enabled by superconducting technology. This would surely trigger an explosion in the number of electric cars, because such vehicles cost only about 300 yen to run 100 kilometers -- much more economical than their gas-powered counterparts.

Thus, we can clearly visualize a “society with no gasoline,” where we produce electricity by such means as wind force power generation, solar energy generation, etc., store it in batteries, transmit it by means of superconducting technology and use it for electric cars.

The new US president, Mr. Obama, seems to be an ardent promoter of environmental policies.

Yamazaki: I am sure America will move towards the “solar economy” from next year. During the presidential election campaign, his opponent McCain insisted in a debate with Obama that the United States must promote its oil resource development in Alaska or elsewhere, to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil. To him, Obama replied, “That will get us nowhere.”

Obama’s point of view is as follows: “The United States has only about 3% of the world's oil reserves, while the nation consumes as much as 25% of the world’s oil. I think such a situation cannot possibly last forever. So, after I become president, I will launch full-scale promotion of solar energy generation, wind force power generation and electric cars. This will be the 21st-Century version of the New Deal program.”

Obama seriously intends to promote the Solar Economy

Yamazaki: In the future, the world’s economy will deteriorate further and further. It is only government investment that can be an aid: implementation of public-works projects ? just as Franklin Roosevelt once constructed dams and hydroelectric stations, according to his New Deal program.

However, in this period, it is not likely that promoting construction of many roads and bridges will bring about much positive economic effects. That is why Obama is going to target government investments toward shifting to the solar economy.

For Japan, the initiation of the solar economy will be a great opportunity. The country already has world-class, state-of-the-art technologies for solar panels, wind-power generation, hydro power generation, batteries, superconductivity, etc. I think we should use such assets to aim at building an infrastructure that will become the global standard through cooperation with China and India.