Stanford dialogue brings momentum to global energy conversation

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Scholars, policymakers and business leaders from Japan and the United States recently gathered at Stanford to analyze energy innovation and build new bilateral endeavors.

“With rapid economic growth in emerging countries, world energy consumption has been and will be increasing, everyone has been wondering if there are enough energy resources for this growth," said Hideichi Okada, a former vice minister for International Affairs at Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Panelists weigh in on the changing energy picture in the U.S. and Japan.

Okada said Japan and the U.S. share concerns about world geopolitical change in energy supply and demand, and nuclear policy. Okada is at Stanford as the Sasakawa Peace Fellow at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) this year.

Okada's remarks came during the the New Channels Dialogue, a two-day conference organized by the Japan Program at Shorenstein APARC and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. It is the first of three annual conferences aimed to stimulate debate on 21st century problems faced by both nations. 

“In the aftermath of the disaster at Fukushima, Japan has reinvigorated its search for cutting-edge technologies and alternative sources of energy,” said Yuji Takagi, president of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. In parallel, the U.S. has increased its production of shale gas as a viable alternative of natural gas.

Confluence of national interest and demand, and shared historical connections between the U.S. and Japan, suggest an ideal environment for further partnerships between the two countries.

“We have entered an especially important period in bilateral relations between the Asia-Pacific [and the U.S.] – it is undergoing such rapid change and technology is transforming. In this context, I believe the U.S.-Japan relationship will only become more important,” Takagi said.

Experts and Stanford scholars discuss electricity systems in California and Japan.

Okada cited the joint U.S.-Japan wind power project in Hawaii as an example of recent cooperation. Last December, Maui became the site of a multi-year renewable energy project between the American and Japanese governments.

Other panelists offered different perspectives on energy opportunities from across sectors, included among them were Julia Nesheiwat, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Energy Resources; Hirofumi Takinami, a member of the Japan’s House of Councilors and former visiting fellow at Shorenstein APARC; Thomas Starrs, SunPower vice president; Nobuo Tanaka, former IEA Executive Director; and Frank Wolak, Stanford economics professor and director of the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development.

Topics discussed included:

  • Energy constraints experienced by Japan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and challenges facing Japan’s electricity industry liberalization.
  • Regional implications of China’s rise as a major energy consumer and producer.
  • Geopolitical and trade balance effects on the United States and Japan resulting from the shale gas revolution transforming the U.S. into a major energy producer.
  • Broad impacts to the energy industry caused by geopolitics and financial instability.
  • Lessons learned from California’s experience with electricity industry liberalization.
  • Multilateral partnerships for energy technology and innovation.

The second day of the conference was a closed session in which candid, in-depth discussions were held. Participants also went on a site visit to Bloom Energy led by principal cofounder and chief executive officer K.R. Sridhar.

The New Channels Dialogue highlighted energy imperatives and created a network of exchange anticipated to continue beyond the conference. A report that encompasses major points and policy recommendations will be published in the forthcoming months.