Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Preventing Global Warming: Should coal-fired power be vilified?
CHINO Keiko / Journalist

February 18, 2020
Implementation of the Paris Agreement, a framework for preventing global warming, has begun in earnest. Prior to this, in December of last year at the COP25 (the 25th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), Japan was criticized by the EU (European Union) and others for making less than enthusiastic efforts to prevent global warming and had received the ignominious

However, Japan probably shouldn't worry too much about this criticism, as the COP25 itself lacked progress due to conflicts between groups actively engaging in preventing global warming and countries with large emissions such as the US, India, and China. Rather, the problem is with the nature of the criticism.
Coal-fired power drew a barrage of attack at that meeting, and Japan, which presented a policy of building more coal-fired power plants instead of eliminating them, was criticized for its persistent dependence on coal. UN Secretary-General Guterres did not name Japan specifically, but went so far as to call for an end to "coal addiction."

Should coal-fired power really be vilified to that extent? Coal certainly emits a large amount of greenhouse gases, and is not compatible with today's decarbonization trend. However, coal has many advantages as an energy source. First, coal reserves are much larger than other fossil fuels such as oil. Second, coal reserves are distributed globally and have low geopolitical risks when compared to oil and other resources. Also, coal is the cheapest of all fossil fuels. In other words, coal is excellent in terms of supply stability and economic feasibility.

These are the reasons why emerging and developing countries such as China, India, and Southeast Asia make coal-fired power a major source of electricity. Similarly, at the end of last year, Poland, which also depends heavily on coal, was the only country that did not enter the agreement at the EU's summit meeting to achieve virtually zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

To be clear, it is not that Japan unconditionally supports all uses of coal. In fact, Japan has had its own problems with coal usage. Many people may still recall visions of black smoke emanating from chimneys when they hear about coal-fired power generation. It is undeniably one cause of serious air pollution in such countries as China and India. However, the situation in Japan is different. These problems are hardly applicable to Japan any longer.

For example, the Isogo Thermal Power Plant in Isogo, Yokohama was the first coal-fired power plant built in the 1960s equipped with a flue gas desulfurization unit - the cutting-edge technology at the time. However, there was concern about a respiratory symptom known as Isogo Asthma. But now, the facility has been renewed and the talk about asthma is a thing of the past.

It is said that the coal-fired power generation technology in Japan leads the world. One technology is "Ultra super critical (USC)" power generation which is also used in the Isogo Thermal Power Plant. This method is designed to generate electricity by burning coal to produce steam at a temperature and pressure higher than before. Due to the high thermal efficiency, less fuel is used leading to comparatively lower CO2 emissions (according to information provided by Chugoku Electric Power Co., Ltd.).

The "building of additional plants" and "exportation of infrastructure" that Japan was accused of at the COP25 also include the conversion of old facilities to more modern power plants. Is it better to stay with old facilities than to build more? Certainly not. According to the Fifth Basic Energy Plan that was announced the year before last, exporting infrastructure was addressed as follows:

“...GOJ proposes to the partner country all options that contribute to CO2 emissions reduction, ...to actively promote “low-carbon infrastructure exports.” In this process, in the case that there is a request from a partner country for Japan’s high efficiency coal thermal power generation then only for those countries that are forced to choose coal as an energy source from the perspectives of energy security and economic viability GOJ supports the introduction of power generation equipment that is in principle at or above ultra-supercritical pressure (USC), the global state-of-the-art, taking into account OECD rules and in a form that is consistent with the energy policy and climate change measures of the partner country.”

This attaches tediously overlapping conditions to exporting infrastructure in this field. To put it simply, it seems to say that efficient coal-fired power is one interim measure until a better energy source is available. As President Macron has stated, "It's clear that everything can't be replaced with renewable energy overnight."

To prevent global warming, it is necessary for both developed and developing countries to muster all the available wisdom including technological innovation, each according to its own circumstances. It would be too easy a way out to the prevention of global warming to vilify coal-fired power. It smacks of hubris on the part of developed countries.

Chino Keiko is a freelance journalist and Guest Columnist of the Sankei Shimbun
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

千野 境子 / ジャーナリスト

2020年 2月 18日







日本の石炭火力発電技術は世界最先端を行くと言われる。磯子にも採用されている「超々臨界圧(Ultra super critical=USC)」発電もそのひとつで、石炭を燃焼させて作る蒸気を従来よりさらに高温、高圧にして発電する方式だ。熱効率が高いため従来に比べて燃料使用量が少なく、CO2排出量が削減出来るという(中国電力の説明を参考)。

COP25で日本が非難された「増設」や「インフラ輸出」も、旧来型からこのような最新式発電所への転換を含んでいる。増設せず古いままの方が良いのだろうか? そんなことはあるまい。インフラ輸出にしても一昨年の第5次エネルギー基本計画によれば、次のようだ。




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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Preventing Global Warming: Should coal-fired power be vilified?