Once dubbed ‘black diamond,’ coal loses ground in major energy markets

Ontario Province intends to gradually phases out coal-fired power generation, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) said on December 22, 2015.

According to FEPC, as part of that policy, a bill was introduced to the provincial parliament on November 25, 2015, which calls for banning the restart of coal-consuming power plants that had been shut by the end of 2014.

Coal used to be called “black diamond” decades ago in Miike on Kyushu Island, where Japanese are believed to have discovered it in 1469. Coal had turned some colliery owners into billionaires, while it also had been a prime mover that helped the nation to realize its post-war economic miracle.

The annual domestic production, however, declined to 1.3 million metric tons in 2014, a far cry from a record 56.3 million metric tons set in 1940, according to the Japan Coal Energy Center.

The Japanese government’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) regards coal as a major resource for electricity generation, along with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and nuclear power as well as renewable energy, chiefly wind and solar power.

ANRE announced in March 2015 that Japan’s coal-fired power plants have achieved 42% heat or thermal efficiency on average, up from 40% in 1995, adding that Germany and other major economically advanced countries had efficiency of below 40%.

The higher thermal efficiency, the more a power company saves fuel consumption. For Japan’s nuclear reactors, the number is around 30%.

FEPC said in December 2015 that its member companies started up one hydropower plant and one LNG-fired power plant that year. Tohoku Electric Power Co., Inc. began commercial operation of a 490-megawatt LNG-fired unit at Sendai City on December 1. This unit is designed to convert more than 60% of heat into electric energy by a combined cycle that consists of a gas turbine and three additional steam turbines run by exhaust gas supplied from the main turbine, the company announced.

For Ontario, which is the king of nuclear power generation in Canada and which has sizable hydropower capacity as well, the anti-coal measure seems to make sense. The provincial government says that its coal policy is equivalent to getting rid of seven million autos on the road, according to FEPC. The policy is also said to constitute the largest single project in North America to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says the Japanese federation.


By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

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