Hiroshi Kajiyama, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, announced on July 3 a new government policy that would accelerate the halting or scrapping of Japan’s old-type coal-fired thermal power plants, in stages, by 2030.
Japan currently has 140 coal-fired power plants, of which 114 are old-type coal-burning power stations with low environmental performance ratings. The drastic shift of the energy policy means that about 90% of them will be subject to scrapping or having their operations suspended.
It is reasonable to reduce outdated electricity generation plants for the purpose of curbing global warming. Low-cost coal-fired power generation, however, has long been considered one of the nation’s mainstay electricity sources. In order to maintain and enhance energy technology, therefore, it is essential that Japan steadily builds high efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired plants with good environmental conservation performance.
Electricity has long provided the platform underpinning people’s lives and industrial activities. Work to ensure a stable power source is key to ensuring a stable power supply, including the utilization of nuclear power plants whose safety has been confirmed.
In his July 3 news conference, Mr. Kajiyama explained that his ministry would “draw out a framework for ‘fading out’ old-type coal-fired thermal power generation.” The ministry will establish an expert panel before the end of July to consider concrete measures, with a view to coming out with a conclusion by the end of the year, he added.
Dependence on coal-fired thermal power generation has been heightened in Japan since the March 2011 triple meltdown accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex. In the face of this situation but with the goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions, the ministry has aimed to work out steps for lessening the dependence on coal.
Mr. Kajiyama in the news conference noted: “ Japan is a resource-scarce island country and needs to come up with the most feasible mix of power sources. We cannot go about abandoning power sources one by one.” It is only natural that he reiterated the government policy of continuing to give the go-ahead for building new coal-fired plants with high environmental conservation performance.
Coal-fired electrical generation can easily be increased and decreased, depending on circumstances. The role of coal-fired power plants has been on the rise as a source of renewable energy because of its flexibility to respond to fluctuations in demand caused by weather and other conditions. Taking the easy way out by abandoning coal as an energy source could adversely affect efforts for encouraging broad use of power generation from renewable energy.
After the Paris Climate Accords entered into force in 2016 with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, moves to end the use of coal have been gaining impetus, especially in Europe. Even Germany, known as a country heavily dependent on coal-fired power generation, has hammered out a policy toward the elimination of coal plants by 2038. In line with this international trend, Japan is set to contribute to the prevention of global warming.
The government’s Strategic Energy Plan, scheduled for revision as early as 2020, will incorporate the policy of halting or scrapping traditional coal-fired power plants. Although the current plan calls for reduction of old-style coal-fired power plants, the forthcoming plan will clarify the time frame, with the aim of boosting the effectiveness of Japan’s carbon emissions reductions effort.
To prevent global warming, enhanced use of nuclear power generation that emits no greenhouse gases is indispensable. The envisioned revision to Japan’s Strategic Energy Plan should include a clear expression of support for the construction of new nuclear power plants and expansion of existing ones.
(Click here to read the editorial in its original Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun