Reducing dependence on coal-fired power generation is an international trend, but a stable supply of electricity must not be hindered. The government should reconstruct the energy policy so it is realistic.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama has announced a plan to discontinue the use of or shut down inefficient coal-fired power plants, which generate large volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2). The government plans to cut some 90% of about 110 units built before the mid-1990s by fiscal 2030.
Coal-fired power generation is regarded as a key source of electricity, accounting for 32% of the nation’s total power output after liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has a share of 38%. It can be said that the move to discontinue the use of or shut down the plants marks a major turning point in the nation’s energy policy.
Coal is easy to procure and a low-cost power source. It enables stable power output. On the other hand, it generates about twice as much CO2 as thermal power from LNG.
Coal-fired power generation has come under growing criticism worldwide. France plans to abolish it by 2022, Britain by 2025 and Germany by 2038. They intend to replace coal with renewable energy sources.
Japan has received criticism that its efforts have been insufficient. So it is understandable that the government has announced the plan to discontinue the use of or shut down the plants.
The challenge is securing alternative power sources.
The government has said it intends to maintain or expand new and highly efficient coal-fired power plants. It is uncertain how such a stance will be evaluated by European and other countries that aim to abolish coal-fired power generation.
The government said it plans to accelerate efforts to turn renewables, such as solar and wind power, into the nation’s mainstay power sources. However, power output from such sources fluctuates greatly depending on time of day and weather conditions, so it is unstable. Japan is an island nation with different circumstances from Europe, where neighboring countries are connected through power grids.
The cost of generating power with renewable energy sources is also high in Japan compared with other countries. In 2012, the government launched a system to purchase renewable energy at a fixed price to promote the use of such energy. However, the financial burden on households and companies has increased by more than 10% as the cost of purchasing renewable-generated energy has been added to their electricity bills.
If the government pushes a shift to renewable energy, electricity rates could rise further.
The government plans to set up a panel of experts to discuss concrete measures to reduce coal-fired power generation and expand the use of renewable energy sources. Measures are called for to cut electricity rates while it is necessary to devise a system that will take into account the management of utility companies, which are highly dependent on coal-fired power generation.
To strike a balance between preventing global warming and ensuring a stable power supply, it is essential to utilize nuclear power plants. These plants do not emit CO2, while their power generation is stable.
However, only nine of 33 reactors not set for decommissioning have resumed operations since the Great East Japan Earthquake. This is because implementing safety measures and other steps has required time, and progress to obtain consent from local residents has also been slow.
As long as the government has decided to reduce coal-fired power generation, it must take responsibility to back the restart of nuclear reactors.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 4, 2020.