Japan's Richest Man Unveils Scheme for $26 Billion Renewable Energy Supergrid

Thanet Wind Farm

courtesy Vattenfall

Masayoshi Son, entrepreneurial founder of Softbank, Japan's third-largest mobile network, and according to Forbes, the nation's richest man, unveiled a vague but undeniably ambitious plan to completely change Japan's energy infrastructure. His plan, which relies heavily on wind and geothermal power and abandons nuclear, would, he says, shift the majority of Japan's energy sources to renewable energy by 2030.

Son, who's known in Japan for his ballsy, high-risk ventures--he acquired a floundering mobile network and became the exclusive Japanese carrier for the iPhone and iPad--has already created a foundation for the "supergrid," which he says will eventually cost about $26 billion to create. He's already put about $13 million of his own money into the pot, and is pushing for partners to help create a whopping 1,200-mile-long grid that, he hopes, will deliver 60% of the country's energy needs from renewable sources.

The plan, unveiled Monday, was short on specifics, but would rely on both on- and offshore plants, mostly wind and geothermal energy. "Globally, wind power in particular has very good cost performance," he said at the announcement. The plan would also involve shutting down many of Japan's nuclear power plants, which he says are a risk due to the country's high likelihood of earthquakes and tsunamis like the one that caused so much havoc in Fukushima earlier this year.

Son promised that Softbank would chip in as much as $260 million, and is even looking beyond just Japan for this sort of grid--he says it could eventually be expanded to connect to mainland Asia, incorporating grids that cover China, Russia, and even India. According to a Greenpeace study, with frankly outrageous construction, Japan could achieve something like this, but it would mean constructing thousands of wind turbines and installing solar panels on basically every available surface. Still, there's no better time than now to embark on a massive infrastructure rebuild.