Crossing Borders from 28 Countries to Create a Sustainable World - Shizen Energy Group

Although Japan is often said to be lagging behind other developed countries in addressing the climate crisis, Tokyo is home to some startups that are leading the charge on this front. Shizen Energy Group was the only company from the domain of sustainability to be ranked among the "TOP STARTUPS The Hottest Japanese Companies to Work for Now" published by LinkedIn in 2019. Through the activities of Shizen Energy Group aimed at promoting a shift to renewable energy, we will take a closer look at the current situation surrounding the adoption of renewable energy, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.
Shizen Energy set up its first wind farm in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, in 2018.

To create a world that runs 100% on renewable energy

Shizen Energy was founded in 2011 in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident by three entrepreneurs who believed that the most consequential contribution they could make society better was to expand the use of renewable energy.

Working in line with this goal of promoting the use of renewable energy, Shizen Energy has been involved in every essential step in the process of setting up renewable power plants, including their planning, development, financing, engineering, procurement, and construction. It is also engaged in the operation, maintenance, and asset management of completed power plants, as well as the sale of electricity generated and providing sales-related support. Other than the transmission and distribution of electricity, which is handled by general electric power distributors, the scope of company's business encompasses every step from generating electricity from renewable sources of energy to bringing it to customers.

Although this year marks the 10th anniversary of Shizen Energy, the startup has already achieved remarkable results. One year after its founding, the company had already set up its first solar power plant in Koshi, Kumamoto Prefecture. In 2013, the company established juwi Shizen Energy Inc. and juwi Shizen Energy Operation Inc. through a joint venture with a German company that is also one of the largest companies in the world in the domain of renewable energy. The group has provided access to as much as 1 gigawatt of renewable energy over the past decade in Japan. According to Mitsutaka Dehari, leader of the group's branding and communication team, this is equivalent to one nuclear power plant or the electricity demand of 300,000 ordinary households.

Renewable energy currently accounts for 23% of Japan's power generation on average. It remains difficult to generate large amounts of renewable energy in a stable manner due to the fact that this process is affected by environmental conditions, and there is indeed still some way to go before this form of energy can serve as the country's main source of power. However, by raising the number of renewable energy power plants that run on solar and wind power, Shizen Energy has taken on the challenge of bringing this figure as close to 100% as possible.

The global scale of the problem calls for an approach that transcends the boundaries of nationality, professional background, and age

Alongside its activities in Japan, Shizen Energy is also involved in the development of renewable energy power plants overseas. Given that the climate crisis is a global problem, the company is also working on an international level towards its vision of "protecting our green earth for future generations." It is currently developing solar and wind power plants in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, while also operating several renewable energy power plants in Brazil, Indonesia, and Thailand.

One reason for the company's ability to expand its business overseas is the multinational nature of its team. Employees from a total of 28 different countries work at the Tokyo office of Shizen Energy Group. In addition, the company's overseas internship program "Global Talent Program" was so popular that it received over 1,000 applications from around the world for the five positions available.

"Japan is one of the global leaders when it comes to the adoption of renewable energy. Our mission certainly resonates with many people, but there are also many others who are hoping to bring the knowledge and technical expertise they acquire here back to their own countries and promote the use of renewable energy there," Dehari explains.

Dehari points out that it is difficult for renewable energy to become ubiquitous if we were to only embrace Japanese values, and that it is essential to draw on a wide range of knowledge from other countries as well. "The diverse perspectives that our international collaborators offer serve as a major driving force for our company's initiatives," he says.

The diversity of the company's employees is not limited to their nationality, as Shizen Energy also hires individuals from a variety of professional backgrounds and whose age ranges from their 20s to their 70s. "We often call older members of our team 'masters' because they know so many things. For instance, when we are setting up power plants deep in the mountains, seniors with extensive experience in construction work in the mountains will offer us advice by drawing on their depth of experience that we lack. They might tell us to avoid building the power plant in a certain way as rainwater might pool, or that we might disrupt the habitat of an endangered species. We are always very appreciative of their useful advice."

Many of the potential sites that are suitable for the construction of renewable energy power plants are found amid lush natural surroundings, but local residents who have lived in the area for many generations usually do not welcome the proposed development. In the face of challenges like this, the diverse perspectives of team members with a wide range of different attributes allow them to patiently explain the project's significance to the locals, gather support for the project, listen closely to their feedback and concerns, while building consensus with various stakeholders in Japan and overseas to move forward with the project. Despite the differences in their nationality, professional background, and age, everyone in the company shares the common vision of creating a sustainable world and continues to seek out the best solutions to achieve this goal on a daily basis.

那須豊原第一太陽光発電所.jpgThe Nasu-Toyohara No. 1 Solar Power Plant developed by Shizen Energy (Tochigi Prefecture).

Taking the first step to evangelize the adoption of renewable energy

As a major consumer of electricity, how can Tokyo contribute to expanding the adoption of renewable energy?

Ever since the government's "Carbon Neutral Declaration," there has been a significant increase in the number of companies that are looking to go carbon-free. This has led to Shizen Energy receiving more enquiries than before. Some companies are interested in installing solar panels in their offices or on their factory premises, hoping to get involved in collaborative efforts aimed at achieving a carbon-free society in the long term. Given that Tokyo is home to a staggering number of companies, the continued acceleration of this trend could have a major impact.

Shizen Energy has also entered into agreements with local governments in towns and cities such as Obuse in Nagano Prefecture and Koshi in Kumamoto Prefecture to transform their local infrastructure into one that is more sustainable. While it is unrealistic at this juncture to expect Tokyo, a city that consumes a massive amount of electricity, to fully transition to unstable renewable sources of energy for its power supply needs, it is at least conceivable to begin by setting up renewable sources of energy at the municipal level or through regional cooperatives. Dehari believes that it is entirely possible for local residents to draw on these renewable sources for their everyday power supply needs while reserving the efficient utilization of existing forms of power supply for cases of emergency.

"Fostering an appreciation of the need for renewable energy throughout the entire society is vital for its widespread adoption. Given that Tokyo consumes so much electricity, I believe that we have a duty to take the lead in promoting the use of renewable energy, as well as the need for energy conservation, to continue the work of building consensus in society."

Some studies have shown that the rise in sea levels due to global warming is accelerating even faster than previously thought, which makes the transition to a carbon-free society increasingly urgent. If climate change is allowed to exacerbate, it might result in a decline in solar radiation or new wind patterns that stem from changes to ocean currents. Dehari warns that these environmental changes might in turn make it impossible for us to generate the expected amount of power and flatten the growth curve of renewable energy moving forward.

"Diverse ideas are essential for tackling difficult problems like this. Tokyo has an advantage in this regard as it is a melting pot of many different ideas and home to a diverse society. Both startups and larger corporations are getting more and more involved in initiatives aimed at creating a sustainable society, and if we can create a setting where everyone can collaborate and pool their knowledge and resources together, I believe that renewable energy will be adopted faster than ever before. As Tokyo is a massive energy consumer, I hope that by transforming the way we approach the issue of energy here in Tokyo, we can transform Japan's approach on a national level as well."

Text: Atsuo Suzuki