Japanese companies plan to develop about 45 additional coal power plants, adding more than 20 gigawatts (GW) of capacity, in the next decade, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Fossil fuels accounted for about 82% of Japan’s net electricity generation in 2015, up from 62% in 2010. The share of fossil fuel-powered generation rose substantially for the first time in several decades in the wake of the Fukushima disaster when electric utilities turned to hydrocarbons as substitutes for the lost nuclear power generation, the EIA said.
According to the Japan Electric Power Information Center, there are more than 60 major thermal power plants owned by the top 10 electric utilities and J-Power and numerous combined-cycle LNG-fired or coal-fired plants are under construction or are in the planning stages.
Domestic coal production dwindled to virtually nothing in 2002, and Japan began importing all of its coal, primarily from Australia. Coal imports grew to 210 million short tons of coal in 2015 from 193 million short tons in 2011, after more coal-fired generation capacity came online. Japan, which was the world's top coal importer for decades, dropped to the third-largest importer in 2015, just below China and India.
Some coal-fired power plants located off the coast of Fukushima experienced significant damage following the 2011 earthquake. As a result, coal use declined slightly in 2011 when the country relied heavily on natural gas and oil to replace lost nuclear capacity. Once new coal-fired capacity was commissioned in 2013 and international coal prices dropped, electric utilities increased coal purchases for power generation. According to the EIA, coal accounted for 23% of the power sector market share before Fukushima and increased to 31% in 2015. The government plans for coal to account for 26% of the market share by 2030, maintaining the fuel’s importance as a baseload for power generation.
Japan has the highest efficiency rate of coal-fired technology in the world, the EIA said. It is installing new, clean coal plant technologies, such as ultra-supercritical units or integrated gasification combined-cycle technology, to meet environmental targets and to replace some of the decades-old coal power plants. Coal is expected to displace some of the expensive oil-fired power generation.
“The pace of development depends on how many nuclear units can return to service and whether the government will grant environmental approvals to each coal-fired power plant in light of Japan's commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emission levels by 2030,” the EIA said.