Japan’s Coal Plans Push Forward Despite Falling Coal Use Across G7, Report

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Japan is pushing forward with plans for 47 new coal power plants, despite falling coal use across the G7, setting itself at odds with its economic brethren.

A new report published earlier this month by climate diplomacy and energy policy analysts E3G includes its latest G7 coal scorecard, which shows clearly just how contrary to its fellow members of the G7 Japan is placed.

Coal Scorecard-1

Though the scorecard does not read well for most members of the G7, there is good news in parts — with an additional 4 GW of proposed new coal plants scrapped across the G7, leaving Japan as the only member country actively seeking to build new coal capacity.

“The progress since our last assessment is startling,” said Chris Littlecott, Programme Leader at E3G. “Coal power capacity is rapidly coming off the system in the UK and the USA. Other G7 members recognise that coal-fired generation is an old and dirty technology, not fit for the 21st century. In the last six months the UK and Alberta have both announced coal phase out policies to enable a managed transition to clean electricity. This makes Japan’s defiant pursuit of new coal plants an increasingly isolated position.”

E3G is not the only one which has recently highlighted Japan’s counter-global coal plans. A report published earlier this month by the Sustainable Finance Programme at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment found that Japan’s future expanded-coal fleet could end up stranding $56 billion.

This compares startlingly with recent news out of the UK which saw electricity generated from coal fall to zero for the first time since the first coal-fired generator opened in London back in 1882!

“Japan’s weak emissions reduction target and planned coal investments put it out of step with a world that is quickly moving low carbon,” added Taylor Dimsdale, Head of Research at E3G. “It is wasting its considerable advantages both in diplomacy and in clean energy technology. Japan should use the G7 summit to re-emerge as a leader on climate change.”

In total, across the G7, 40 GW of existing coal plants have been added to the retirement pipeline, pushing the total coal planned for retirement up to 165 GW.

Coal Scorecard-2

Across the G7, most countries are implementing new policies and measures to transition away from coal. The UK, Canada, and Germany all improved their scores according to the latest G7 coal scorecard, while the US remained at the top.

G7_ranking_small_700_350

Numerous highlights from across the G7 confirm the hope that the coal transitioning is accelerating, although to varying degrees in each G7 country. The UK Government has committed to ending coal use in power generation by 2025, with 5 GW of coal plants already closed this year, and more to follow. Canada’s province of Alberta has similarly committed to ending coal use in power generation by 2030, which is big news considering that Alberta is home to half of Canada’s remaining coal plants. Germany, France, and Italy are all further down the scale, with their scores reflecting policy maneuvering at home.


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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

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72 thoughts on “Japan’s Coal Plans Push Forward Despite Falling Coal Use Across G7, Report

  • Anyone know the symbol for “stranded assets” in Japanese?

    • I think it’s vaguely reminiscent of a fuel cell.

  • Great article and fantastic metrics and graphics. Would love these metrics and graphics including China and India. (Not “G7”, but that’s not relevant for this analysis anyway. )

  • A dumb move by Japan’s leaders. Hope they get wise and realize it’s bad investment before 2 late

    • They seem to run against the trend not only for cars then?

  • This is incomprehensible.

    • Yes. Mathematically insane as it is known they will become stranded.

      • Coal assets will only become stranded if they stop using coal. Who can force them to stop?

        • Everybody.

        • Merit order.

        • import taxes on products coming from Japan.. export taxes for products that go into Japan..
          If they piss off the world enough that is and the world get’s it’s act together on that one.

  • Wonder if you might add a little info to the graph (coal Dyn)
    Red – is those that became operation in/after 2010? US has much more that 25W operation
    Gray – are planned new plants that got canceled (2010+)
    Orange – Planned new plants
    Retired – retired in the time frame. Are these mothballed, dismantled, ?
    Announced Close – still running but plan to close
    Policy – If they follow thru on policy then these should get added to Announced list at some point.
    Is that what the chart means?

  • The Japanese are slow learners. They’re just getting the message, no one did the conversion loss calculations before???, that hydrogen is a total loser.

    IT may show that Japan is a society controlled by a capitalistic oligarchy and their decisions are not driven by intelligence but money.

    • The U.S. too: See “Congress.”

  • There’s a reason people are switching out of standard index funds and moving into ETF SPYX. A non-carbon index. The next 12 years will be a bloodbath.

    • The thing is if Exxon and BP start to transition to Solar and Wind, then the transition will be smooth and rapid. If they don’t it will be slightly delay, but then very disruptive.

      • From Exxon’s inability to hold back production during a bubble, i.e. no bubble management, then you can guess it will be disruptive, and they’ll be the last to move.

  • There is something wrong with Japan. They don’t seem to have figured out democracy yet. The government is hated, considered corrupt, and known for making terrible decisions which the population disagrees with, but it remains in power…

    • And this is different from most other countries how… ? 😀

    • Look at it differently.. they never got off their hierarchical system where a handful of families rule.
      They might have organized workers and blown away slow moving western industries with that, but the core didn’t change.
      The core stayed inflexible.
      That’s why I also don’t have a lot of faith into Saudi Arabia and Co with their attempt to attract future industries on their ground. Their social structure is not suitable for this currently.

      Europe must have tried (don’t know if succeeded) to get rid of that old social order back in the 17/18th century (remnants still active).
      The new system that came after that (capitalism) is a little bit more flexible and replaces/removes players that get it wrong every now and then. The US got that more or less from the start.
      Look at it.. it’s even so flexible to recognize (later than sooner mostly) that environment needs protection etc. and creates some meaningful infrastructure/assets to deal with those particulars – I find that amazing.

  • Remember Japan also still has a whaling fleet. They’re delightfully retro about some things…

  • From what I’ve read, the problem in Japan is that the electricity supply is in the hands of regional silo monopolies that make Georgia Power look progressive. They pushed for nuclear, which led to the Fukushima disaster and the shutting down of the entire fleet. All they can think of is replacing it with second best baseload, coal.

    The needed cultural revolution requires electricity market reform: splitting generation from transmission – Japan does not even have a true national grid – and allowing competition in the former. India and China have both gone down this route. You can see the difference.

  • What is the most economical and effective way to provide power to a densely populated, generally small, generally cloudy island nation? I’ve run the numbers and it’s not easy to balance generation and demand like the US, China or even Europe. Solutions Project does suggest it’s possible, likely with a lot of utility scale solar.

    • The whole country is coastline. A bunch of offshore wind and solar would be a great start.

      • Floating offshore wind could absolutely supply it all if it could be made cost effective.

        • It seems to be heading there. The new “floating tube” design looks very promising.

          It can be built at dockside and towed to the site. Looks like it might have a lower materials cost than fixed tower. And building “on shore” would really reduce costs.

        • Look this one up as well. http://www.floatingpowerplant.com

          The rapid weight decrease in wind power really augment the business case for their technology and it is going into full scale testing after their initial succesful testing.

          80% of Japan is inhabitable wilderness so real estate is difficult to come by for both solar and wind. Offshore is the way to go and Mitsubishi has partnered with Vestas on offshore in MHI-Vestas.

          • Germany has shown that it is perfectly possible to build wind farms in hilly forests like the Black Forest. You just need a 120-meter tower. Japan seems to have very strong “environmentalust” lobbies against any kind of development in forests; this has prevented the development of the plentiful geothermal resources.

          • Even “hilly” areas are hard to find and besides the cost of moving heavy equipment around are probably prohibitive.

            New geothermal technologies enables designs that are close to invisible and have very little impact on nature once established so potentially the sentiment can be changed.

            Besides those same anti geothermal groups are not likely to like wind power any better.

      • wave and tidal too.

    • Wind.

    • The most economical way? For Japan it’s rooftop solar, thanks to their extremely high retail electricity prices and very low cost of capital. They just need to get their installation costs down to Australian levels. The situation is complicated by the fact that Japan has a construction season and the astounding short expected remaining lifespan of many of Japan’s buildings, but it is a fairly sunny place compared to Germany.

      Utility scale wind can assist, but a lot of Japan is pretty dead when it comes to wind, bumping up its price before any other considerations. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful, or cheaper overall than importing coal.

      • I wonder why the expected lifespan of existing buildings is so short. Construction there is beefy for seismic reasons. New buildings can be designed to have full availability of the roof for solar. If codes require it.

        • There is a combination of reasons. One is cheap and shoddy construction was allowed after World War II to replace the building stock that was destroyed and the shoddy practices didn’t stop so that at the turn of the century the average life span of a Japanese house was, I think, 26 years. Japanese people have did not have, and may still don’t have an effective way to complain about shoddy construction.

          But a big reason is cultural. A Japanese friend inherited a house from her grandmother and it is basically worthless. Only the land has value. One reason is because someone died in it and generally no one wants to buy a house someone died in. And secondly the house is used generally and no one wants to buy a used house. It’s kind of like how many people in the US wouldn’t want to buy underwear someone had died in, no matter how well laundered it was.

          Many pronouncements have been made about improving the quality of Japanese housing, and new houses look as though they are better built. But I don’t actually know how much things have really changed.

  • They’ll be able to do this because the U.S. will sell them coal from Wyoming, unless California can stop the shipments before they get to Oakland for transport to Japan.

    • The Oakland City Council is scheduled to vote in about a month on whether to allow coal shipped through their port. I’d be surprised if it passes. So far there has been no port on the West Coast that has allowed coal shipments.

  • This is what happens if you stop fully built clean functioning nuclear power plants.
    These countries want to phase out expensive Oil in power generation and the best way is to use Coal. More coal fired plants will come if more electric vehicles are sold.

    I hope they bring back their nuclear plants online and keep Coal in check.

    • Japan kind of had a rude nuclear awakening. Most people can understand why they are now nuclear-wary.

      Japan has no need to turn to coal. They have more than adequate renewable resources.

      • Given zero casualties from radiation at Fukushima, and the survival unscathed of nuclear plants closer to the earthquake and tsunami epicentre, ‘most people’ are grossly overreacting. The climate is now paying the price. The evidence of this article could not be clearer that renewables are not wholly up to it. Having the ‘resource’ is only the beginning; there’s a lot more to ensuring a reliable energy supply.

        • Perhaps people are overreacting. Perhaps you are a bit low on self-protection awareness.

          We can power our world with renewables. That’s something that we know.

          • Japan was blindsided by Fukushima. They were not prepared to replace their nuclear with renewables.

            Germany, after watching the Fukushima disaster, decided to speed up their exit from nuclear. They also had not planned ahead for closing reactors at that time. It meant that they ended up burning more fossil fuels for a couple of years and it may mean that they will fall a bit short on the 2020 goal they set well before Fukushima. But Germany expects to be back on track shortly after.

            .

      • “more than adequate renewable resources”? Really? Japan has a population of 127 million crammed into less than 400,000 km^2, much of which is mountainous. Given the inherent diluteness of renewables, this seems unrealistic.

        • Japan has far more wind, solar and geothermal potential than it needs to power the country.

          ” Given the inherent diluteness of renewables, this seems unrealistic.”

          That tells me that you are likely poorly informed on how renewables work and how we can fully power our lives with renewables. We’ll end up with reliable energy that costs us less than what we pay today.

          • Condescension aside, the only analyses I see that support such claims make unrealistic assumptions about the capacity of intermittent renewable. And Japan has one of the highest population densities in the world.

  • And what makes climate scientist knowledgeable about energy? Are they also experts in heart surgery and genetic modification?

    Hansen is a wonderful climate scientist but when it comes to energy issues he’s energy illiterate.

    He has made a freshman science student mistake. He’s pontificating about what we should do to move off fossil fuels without reading the literature in the energy field.

    Are you familiar with Linus Pauling? Nobel Prize winner in his field. Dabbled in a field in which he was not trained and made a fool out of himself.

    • FUD down the chute….

  • Hansen is illiterate when it comes to renewable energy.

    Yes, we could replace fossil fuels with nuclear energy. But it would take far too long and it would destroy economies. To say nothing of the problem of radioactive waste that we would be passing on to future generations.

    Now, Aaron, let’s get back on topic. There are other forums where you can enjoy your nuclear fantasies.

  • Here’s what your link claims.

    “So you would need to cover roughly 11% of Japan in solar panels to provide all of its energy needs.”

    The Solutions Project says about 64% of Japan’s energy from solar. That takes 11% down to 7%.

    The Solutions Project looked at resources, including space to install.

    About 5% of Japan’s land mass is covered by buildings.

    • You missed this bit:
      [Yes, this back of the envelope calculation ignores the fact that the
      sun goes down and that 100% solar would likely require significant
      overbuild of capacity. It also ignores possible future improvements in
      efficiency.]

  • Germany’s wholesale cost of electricity has been falling as Germany has added renewables to their grid. Germany’s cost of industrial electricity is below the EU27 and EU28 averages.

    Retail consumers pay high taxes, the majority of which have nothing to do with electricity but are sales/VAT taxes that go to the general coffers.

    .

    • That’s a bit misleading, isn’t it? Wholesale prices are only part of the picture. There are subsidies to solar and wind. Don’t solar and wind producers get paid for the energy they produce by the German government– even when the market price of electricity in Germany is zero?

      • Wholesale prices are a good indicator of the cost of generating electricity. As Germany has been adding renewables the cost of electricity has been dropping.

        The FiT system Germany uses does not lower the cost of generation. In the US system solar and wind farm owners can opt for a 30% investment tax credit, lowering their cost to bring the system online. Germany’s system guarantees a selling price and has no impact on the cost to produce.

        • “Wholesale prices are a good indicator of the cost of generating electricity” Well, no, not if distortions in the energy market cover the true cost.

          “As Germany has been adding renewables the cost of electricity has been dropping.” This would appear to be a classic post hoc fallacy. Multiple factors affect costs.

          • “” But it would take far too long and it would destroy economies. ” That claim could also be made for renewables,”

            Fact is, Aaron, Germany has been adding renewables rather aggressively and their cost of electricity has been dropping.

            What has happened in Germany is that the wholesale price of electricity has fallen below the cost of production for coal plants and the German coal industry is in deep trouble.

            And take a look at what has happened to the wholesale price of electricity on a sunny day with only a modest amount of electricity on their grids….

            .

          • “Fact is, Aaron, Germany has been adding renewables rather aggressively and their cost of electricity has been dropping.” And as I have pointed out, the two are not necessarily linked, especially if the government distorts the market. And they do.

            “…
            the highest proportions of taxes and levies (other than VAT) in the
            price of electricity for industrial consumers were recorded in Germany
            (46.8 %) and Italy (39.4 %); these were the only EU Member States to
            record shares in excess of 30.0 %. At the other end of the scale, there
            were no taxes and levies (other than deductible VAT) applied to the
            price of electricity for industrial consumers in Malta, and the share of
            taxes and levies was less than 2.0 % in Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria and
            the Czech Republic.

            http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Energy_price_statistics

            They must be paid for, directly and/or indirectly. The > €20 billion Germany spends on subsidies do not appear out of thin air.

            Perhaps its also worth noting that the German decarbonization effort has effectively stalled since the decision was made to mothball nuclear PPs.

          • Aaron, I explained to you that the German FiT system does not impact the cost of producing electricity. Wind and solar farms do not get payments for producing. They get to sell at a predetermined price.

            Renewable subsidies, in Germany, are paid by residential consumers rather than out of general tax funds as in the US.

            “Perhaps its also worth noting that the German decarbonization effort has effectively stalled since the decision was made to mothball nuclear PPs.”

            Well, duh….

            Aaron, I’ll ‘splain it to you again.

            1) Fukushima melted.

            2) Germany, having experienced Chernobyl on their doorstep, decided to speed up their reactor closure program.

            3) Because they had no time to prepare (Fukushima was not announced ahead of time) Germany had to use more fossil fuel for a couple of years.

            4) I gave you a graph showing that Germany has now moved on from that FF increase blip.

          • Again, wholesale prices are only part of the story, as this Bloomberg article make clear:-

            “While wholesale prices have fallen 13 percent in the past year,
            subsidies to fund Energiewende have pushed German consumer bills to the
            second-highest in the European Union after Denmark. Household prices
            rose 2 percent in 2014 from the previous year, Eurostat data show.”

            http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-25/why-do-germany-s-electricity-prices-keep-falling-

          • Yes, taxes. German residential consumers pay a lot of taxes.

            Let’s look at how costs break out for retail customers in Germany…

            In 2013 the average household electricity rate was about 29 € cents / kWh according to the BDEW (Energy industry association).

            The composition:

            8.0 cent – Power Generation & Sales

            6.5 cent – Grid Service Surcharge

            5.3 cent – Renewable Energy Surcharge

            0.7 cent – Other Surcharges (CHP-Promotion, Offshore liability,…)

            In addition there are some taxes & fees that go straight into the government’s bank account:

            2.1 cent – EcoTax (federal government)

            1.8 cent – Concession fees (local governments)

            4.6 cent – Value added tax (19% on all of the above) – (federal, state & local governments)

            So 8 + 6.5 or 14.5 euro cents go to electricity purchase and delivery. About 19 US cents. That’s higher than the US 12.5 cent average, but less than a penny higher than New York and Connecticut.

            And, since I haven’t paid a utility bill for over 20 years, aren’t there costs on most US utility bills in addition to electricity costs? Extra fees and stuff that would take the US number higher than 13 cents?

            And let’s take a look at the cost of residential and industrial electricity in Germany, Denmark and France. Interesting how the cost of electricity is rising in France, is it not?

            .

          • That chart shows that Germany and Denmark have the highest household prices for domestic electricity in the last year for which data is available: 2014.

          • I’m not sure what your point is. Germany and Denmark have long had high electricity prices.

            Germany’s prices were high when Germany was running on coal and nuclear.

  • “According to the Ministry of Environment, Japan has an onshore wind power potential of 280 GW and 1600 GW of offshore potential, without considering financial aspects (Arakawa & Ueda, 2012). The total wind power potential is estimated to be eight times the current capacity of its electric power companies”

    (Matsutani, 2013).

    https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:9zFWglvF5skJ:https://ore.catapult.org.uk/documents/10619/118716/pdf/41f8364a-04d3-4780-bb90-657b513cc9a0+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    It appears that the cost of floating offshore wind is dropping faster than was expected. Were the Solutions numbers to be redone in a few years it could well be that we’d see some lowering of solar and an increase in offshore wind.

    • That’s nice, but wind speeds in Japan are low. Even the JWPA thinks 20% of current electricity is feasible by 2050. Note also that offshore wind will be susceptible to tsunamis.

      • Wind speeds are fast enough –

        “The total wind power potential is estimated to be eight times the current capacity of its electric power companies”

        Tsunamis would have no impact on floating wind turbines. Tsunami wave action becomes problematic only when the energy is concentrated in shallow water.

  • Ignorance would be failing to take a significant danger seriously.

    Japan demonstrated that sort of ignorance when it built nuclear reactors in a known tsunami zone.

    As for Germany and coal –

    Several years ago (2005 to 2008) Germany decided to replace inefficient coal plants with more efficient “supercritical” plants as a way to decrease coal use and reduce emissions. The initial plan was that by 2020, 11.5 gigawatts would be built allowing 18.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity to be decommissioned.

    Due to the success of renewables it appears that the 11.5 gigawatt number will be lowered by at least 3 GW. Furthermore the newer plants will be more efficient, releasing less CO2 per unit electricity produced than are the ones they are replacing. And the new coal plants are partially load-following which further cuts total emissions.

    As of November 2013 some 49 power plants with a collective capacity of 7.9 GW have been submitted for decommissioning. Another 246 MW of capacity has been closed. Utilities in Germany need clearance from the government before closing and that process can take several months.

    In July, 2015 it was announced that the recently completed hard coal plant in Hamm, Germany will likely never go into operation and is now apparently worthless. It seems that Hamm D and Hamm E, which have a combined capacity of 1.6 GW are redundant. This seems to be a further cut from the 8.3 GW of new that are replacing 18.5 old.

    • “Ignorance would be failing to take a significant danger seriously.”

      “Japan demonstrated that sort of ignorance when it built nuclear reactors in a known tsunami zone.”

      So, Japans nuclear fleet weathers the worst catastrophe in a generation, kills no-one, and yet they “failing to take a significant danger seriously”.

      Sorry, but that seems to supremely arrogant on your part.

      • “A Japanese Research Company was assigned to find out the health effects and casualties caused by the disaster. They found that some deaths were early, during evacuation processes, while other deaths gradually happened after the disaster. The agency found out that the cause of these early deaths were due to the disruption of hospital operations, exacerbation of pre-existing health problems and the stress of dramatic changes in life. It is stated that the vast majority of people who died during their evacuation were elderly.[50] 45 patients were reported dead after the evacuation of a hospital in Futaba due to lack of food, water and medical care as evacuation was delayed by three days.[51]”

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster_casualties

        Now, enough of your nuclear trolling. Just stop.

  • In 2014 down 4.3% –

    “Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions fell for the first time in three years in 2014, helped by a mild winter and the expansion of renewable sources of energy, the environment ministry said on Tuesday.

    “CO2 emissions declined by more than 41 million tonnes last year, equivalent to a drop of 4.3 percent, data from Germany’s UBA environment agency showed. Compared with 1990, emissions were down 27 percent.”

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-carbon-idUSKBN0MR1E520150331

    In 2015 up 1.1% –

    Higher demand for heating oil and diesel, plus use of lignite (brown coal) for power generation, were behind the 1.1% bounce, according to Green Budget Germany.

    http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/03/14/german-co2-emissions-rise-10-million-tonnes-in-2015/

    I’m not sure why Germany burned more soft coal in 2015. I do remember there being some transmission limit problems with moving offshore wind electricity south. The cold weather might have meant an increase in electricity use and the south has brown coal. But that’s just a guess.

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