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Climate Change

Japan's NTT bets on battery storage and the green transformation

Zero-carbon investment increasingly determines companies' growth and market cap

Mega-solar power plant in Tsugaruishi district: the city of Miyako in Iwate Prefecture is turning to renewables to achieve resiliency in its electricity supply. (Courtesy of the municipal offices of Miyako)

TOKYO -- Japanese telecommunications giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone is about to drastically transform itself as the global trend of decarbonization accelerates.

As part of its new strategy, NTT has tied up with the Iwate Prefecture city of Miyako, whose energy networks were cut off in 2011 as a result of the devastating earthquake and tsunami. Learning from this bitter experience, the city now uses renewable energy sources to meet about 30% of its electricity needs. It plans to raise the proportion to 100% by 2050 through its tie-up with NTT.

NTT consumes 1% of the electricity generated in Japan to run its huge telecom infrastructure. It now plans to use this infrastructure as part of its new businesses involving decarbonization. For example, NTT is considering installing batteries at its 7,300 telecom service buildings across Japan so it can store electricity produced from local renewable energy sources such as sunlight and wind power. This offers a solution to renewables' main weakness: their volatility and intermittency due to unstable weather conditions, causing difficulties in matching supply and demand.

Furthermore, if the more than 10,000 vehicles that NTT owns are replaced with electric vehicles, they can serve as backup power sources for essential facilities such as hospitals during disasters.

"We will increase renewable energy on our own and play the role of adjusting supply and demand for energy in various parts of the country," said Jun Sawada, president and CEO of NTT.

Jointly with major Japanese trading house Mitsubishi Corp., NTT will also break into the business of virtual power plants, connecting distributed renewable energy through high tech. By fiscal 2030, NTT plans to become capable of providing renewable energy-based electricity on a scale comparable to a major electric power company, supplying businesses and local governments.

Not only NTT but also other big companies are flocking to the field of green transformation.

Of the 225 companies whose stock prices are used to calculate the closely watched Nikkei Stock Average, at least 39 have implemented zero-emission targets. Together they account for some 20% of the 225 companies' combined market capitalization.

The trend was triggered by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's announcement soon after taking office last September that Japan will achieve net zero in carbon emissions by 2050.

The pledge was expected to bring opposition from manufacturers. Steel-makers, which produce a large chunk of Japan's industrial carbon emissions, are close to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and contribute large sums to LDP lawmakers' political fundraising organizations.

But Suga, among others, possibly calculated that the commitment will prompt structural changes in Japan's industry and stimulate the economy while winning popular support.

His decision has pushed Japanese companies to join the bandwagon heading toward carbon neutrality. Around the world, the green transformation is already affecting the corporate values of businesses.

For example, major Danish electric power generator Orsted has already sold its domestic power and gas retail business for the sake of becoming a company that earns profit from renewable energy, especially offshore wind power.

In October 2020, Henrik Poulsen, then CEO of Orsted, declared the completion of its conversion to a global renewable energy company.

Orsted used to generate electricity from fossil fuels. Poulsen called it a typical company relying on "black energy" because it was responsible for one-third of Denmark's greenhouse gas emissions.

Around 2009, Orsted began to push ahead with decarbonization programs under the slogan of "from black to green" promoted by Poulsen, who took the helm as CEO in 2012.

Although Poulsen stepped down from the post at the end of 2020, Orsted is not changing its plan to spend 200 billion kroner ($33 billion) on renewable energy over the seven years from 2019. The company aims to increase its generation capacity from renewable energy by more than 30 million kilowatts and slash its carbon emissions by 98% in 2025 from the 2006 level.

As investors have welcomed Orsted's strategic change, its market capitalization has increased roughly fivefold from 2016, when it went public, and topped that of BP, which used to be much larger.

In the U.S., the renewable energy company NextEra Energy temporarily surpassed Exxon Mobil in market capitalization.

The era has arrived when corporate growth strategies are greatly affected by investment aiming for zero carbon.

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