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Viewpoint: Electrification key to Japan emissions goals

20 Dec 2017 03:16 GMT
Viewpoint: Electrification key to Japan emissions goals

Osaka, 20 December (Argus) — Japan is pushing ahead with plans for the electrification of almost all energy consuming sectors to help meet its target for an 80pc cut in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.

The plans, which will replace direct fuel consumption with electricity in almost all sectors other than power generation, are being driven by Japan's environment ministry that sees them as essential to meet its GHG reductions.

Japan has committed to cutting its GHG emissions by 26pc by the 2030-31 fiscal year compared with levels in 2013-14 and 80pc by 2050, to comply with the 2015 Paris climate change agreement that aims to limit the average rise in global temperatures to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The base year for the 2050 target is still unclear. But if it is set at 2013-14 when Japan's GHG emissions were 1.41bn t of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), emissions will be capped at just 282mn t of CO2e in 2050, similar to estimated levels in 1960.

Japan needs to cut emissions to zero for more than 90pc of the country's primary energy, as well as almost 100pc of energy used in people's daily lives, to meet the ambitious 2050 target, the environment ministry says. This means eliminating the direct burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

The ministry sees the electrification of all sectors, including industry, commercial, transportation and households, in as the best first step to hit the emissions targets, although details are still to be decided. The change may in fact lead to a temporary rise in GHG emissions from the power sector, which still relies on thermal fuels. But the ministry is urging power utilities to switch to renewables and other clean power sources to achieve a low-carbon society.

Japan's GHG emissions were 1.325bn t of CO2e in 2015-16. The industrial sector accounted for 35.8pc of total emissions, with commercial users producing 23.1pc, transportation 18.6pc, households 15.6pc and power generation just 6.9pc. The data support the environment ministry's focus on achieving universal electrification, by showing how difficult it will be to cut emissions even if the power generation sector was converted to clean energy.

The 2050 target faces huge challenges. The electrification of society requires major changes to energy consumption habits, as well as a massive education programme to raise awareness. The removal of fossil fuels from the direct-burn energy mix, especially LNG and coal, is unrealistic in the short term.

Japan's consumption of LNG-based city gas totalled 37.7bn m³ in 2016-17, according to the Japan gas association, indicating around 25.4mn t of LNG is required for city gas production.

But if all city-gas users switch to electricity, LNG burning by power producers will theoretically increase by 46pc, based on industry ministry data showing that utilities used 55.7mn t of regasified LNG in the period. Gas fuelled 45pc of Japan's total power generation in 2016-17, compared with just 3.1pc for renewable energy, illustrating how hard it will be for the electrification plans to avoid driving a big rise in thermal fuel use, at least in the short term.

Japan's troubled nuclear sector is another potential source of emissions cuts. But it could be equally difficult to replace coal-fired power units with nuclear reactors, Argus assessments show. Japan has 46,118MW of coal-fired power capacity, which is equivalent to around 46 nuclear reactors. But only five nuclear reactors with a combined capacity of 4,410MW are currently operational. The country's 37 other reactors remains closed for stricter safety checks following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which has also halted construction of new and replacement reactors and created huge uncertainty over the future of the sector.

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