Phaseout of Coal-Fired Power Plants: Make Use of Japan-Originated Decarbonization Technology

There is a growing international trend of calls for the phaseout of coal-fired thermal power plants, which emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, for decarbonization.

It is hoped that Japan will develop new decarbonization technology to reduce its dependence on coal power.

The climate, energy and environment ministers of the Group of Seven advanced nations agreed to phase out by 2035 coal-fired thermal power plants that have not taken measures to reduce CO2 emissions. This is the first time that a deadline for such abolition has been explicitly stated.

It is said that not many of the coal-fired thermal power plants in Japan have taken sufficient measures to reduce CO2 emissions. Measures for that purpose are urgently needed.

The outcome document adopted by the COP28 U.N. climate change conference in December last year clearly called for accelerating action to transition away from fossil fuels in this decade.

This time, the G7 has further clarified the pathway to get rid of fossil fuels. It can be said that the G7 members have demonstrated their commitment to take the lead in climate change measures as developed countries. As global warming progresses, it is important to promote the phaseout of coal-fired thermal power generation as a priority issue.

The G7 agreement also left room for coal-fired thermal power plants to continue to operate in 2035 or later, taking into consideration the circumstances of each country, such as cases in which a stable supply of electricity might be hindered.

Currently, coal accounts for 30% of Japan’s electricity supply. Measures should be taken to steadily reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired thermal power plants while also ensuring a stable supply of electricity.

Japan is hurrying to develop technology to generate electricity by mixing ammonia, which emits no CO2 when burned, with coal. The country is reportedly eyeing the possibility of entirely replacing coal fuel with ammonia in the 2040s.

In addition, Japan is aiming to put into practical use carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technology, which captures CO2 emitted from power plants and traps it underground, by 2030.

Such efforts by Japan have invited criticism in some Western nations as ways to keep coal-fired power plants operating.

However, there are many countries, including emerging economies in Asia, that rely on coal power. If Japan establishes a new decarbonization technology, it would surely contribute to both the economic development of those countries and the prevention of global warming.

The Japanese government’s strategic energy plan, which will be revised this fiscal year, will also be a focal point.

The current plan, compiled in 2021, calls for 19% of the nation’s electricity to be supplied by coal-fired thermal power generation in the energy mix target for fiscal 2030. Under the envisaged plan, the percentage in the energy mix in fiscal 2035 and beyond is expected to be lowered further.

Renewables such as solar and wind power will need to be expanded as alternative power sources. Also, it is essential for the government to strongly support the restart of nuclear power plants, which emit no CO2.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 9, 2024)