The Fukushima nuclear disaster shook Japan’s energy supply. Because the island itself does not have any raw materials worth mentioning. Nuclear energy was therefore used to become somewhat less dependent on imports from abroad. But when all the power plants had to be shut down at once for safety reasons, this became a problem. The energy suppliers therefore bought oil, gas and coal from all over the world. Not much has changed in that respect to this day. Because only a quarter of the country’s nuclear power plants are still back on the grid. The proportion of fossil fuels, on the other hand, is a proud 76 percent. The country’s carbon footprint is correspondingly poor: Japan is currently the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases. However, under international pressure, the government has recently tightened its own goals in this area. The aim is for emissions to fall by 46 percent by 2030 and to disappear completely by 2050.
The government is at least insisting on more efficient power plants
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed this again at the world climate conference in Glasgow. However, the construction activity in his home country does not seem to really fit this rhetoric. Because eight large new coal-fired power plants are currently being built there. These are expected to have a total output of 5.5 gigawatts and cause around 30 million tons of CO2 emissions. But how does this fit in with the climate protection promises? First of all, you have to know that coal-fired power generation is much less controversial in Japan than in this country. For a long time it was considered an important means of ensuring the base load supply. But the government was unable to maintain this position under international pressure. Instead, it is now trying to do a balancing act: On the one hand, the coal-fired power plants should become significantly more efficient. The efficiency should increase to at least 43 percent by 2030. This is only possible through massive modernization.
Ammonia and hydrogen are supposed to solve the dilemma
With numerous older systems, however, the investment is no longer worthwhile. It is estimated that around 100 of the 163 coal kilns in the country will have to be shut down sooner or later. The lost capacities are to be replaced, at least in part, by new coal-fired power plants. These are then more efficient and less harmful to the climate. But they also run a lot longer. From the point of view of climate protection, this approach is therefore not particularly useful. The Japanese government also had to face this criticism. She responded with the second mainstay of the aforementioned balancing act. Because the kilns should only burn coal at the beginning of their lifespan. On the other hand, ammonia and hydrogen will be used later. If this is produced in a climate-neutral way, the power plants could actually be operated emission-free. The problem, however, is that the technology does not yet exist. Even in the most modern systems, ammonia and hydrogen can only be added to date. And this, too, is more likely to be done for experimental purposes. The construction of the new coal pile is, so to speak, a gigantic bet on technological development in this area.