Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Utilities beware here come the telcos

The Climate Spectator has a report on Softbank’s interest in the Japanese energy sector in the wake of the Fukushima meltdowns - Utilities beware: here come the telcos.
There may never have been a more rapid and dramatic conversion to the green economy than that of Japanese billionaire businessman Masayoshi Son. The CEO and president of the telecoms giant Softbank, and rated by Forbes as the richest man in Japan, has become an evangelist for renewable energy since the tsunami and nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant in March.

The 53-year-old Son wants Japan to dump its nuclear plans and instead triple the amount of renewable energy to 30 per cent of its electricity supply by 2020, and he will invest some of his own money rolling out a series of 10 large-scale solar PV plants, totaling around 200MW and costing some $1 billion, which will be constructed in some of the land rendered useless by the twin disasters.

But his most influential move may be his decision to take on the country’s national and regional energy monopolies, demanding the networks be freed up to new participants. His first target is the owner of Fukushima, Tokyo Electric Power. In short, he wants to do to the power industry what he did to the telecommunications industry a decade ago, when he successfully dismantled the monopoly held by the venerable NTT. His progress will be closely watched elsewhere in the world.

The privileged position enjoyed by power utilities in many of the world’s energy markets has been fiercely protected by political indulgence (much of it is state-owned) and regulation for nearly a century.

This privileged position was expected to come under gradual assault over the coming decade with the rapid development of new and smart technologies, and the growing need to control soaring energy demand and reduce emissions development. But while the changes were expected to be gradual, the ambition and influence of Son may be a game-changer, and will be closely observed by other commercial giants that also have ambitions in this area – such as Google, Amazon and Johnston Controls, who are fighting their own war against protectionist energy regulation in the US so that they too can enter the energy market.

Son says the initial solar power project could lead to bigger opportunities for Softbank, and he expects that experience from his telecommunication business can be combined with that of power-distribution systems, and help cash in on the demand for more efficient power grids using information technology. This is the same opportunity being eyed by Google and a host of other software and IT developers.

“The question is how this nation is going to survive after cutting nuclear power," Son said at a government panel meeting this week. “A framework should be designed in a way to make the power business open for anyone who has the will to start it."

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