Tag Archives: Japan

Coal Use in Asia Set to Rise – 11/25/16

China has said it will take over as an environmental leader should the U.S. pull back from the role, but the country will have enough trouble meeting its own targets. China’s utilities would have to phase out coal use by 2040 to meet its emissions goals, according to Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based non-profit that is studying the Paris Climate talks.

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Unfortunately, China, and Asia as a whole, is more likely to see demand for coal is increase than decrease for years to come.

According to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using International Energy Agency data, China’s coal consumption is set to rise substantially. Despite efforts by Chinese policymakers to reduce coal use, the largest Asian nation continues to build roughly two new coal plants a week.screenshot-2016-11-22-at-9-36-24-am

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The BNEF’s outlook has China’s rate of building coal-fired power stations slowing to one a week in the next five years, though it indicates that even with no new construction the nation could meet all its power demands. If you are wondering why the coal plants are still being constructed then see “China’s Power Plant Problem” for more information. The short version is reluctance to follow-through on cutbacks at the local level for fear of social unrest and loss of tax revenue.

The report also showed Japan is pushing ahead with new coal-fired plants in response to the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Concerns about nuclear plants following the incident appear to have soured the country on nuclear power.

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IEA Takes New Tact on Renewables – 11/4/16

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that in 2015, for the first time, renewable energy passed coal as the world’s biggest source of new power-generating capacity.

The IEA, established as a watchdog of the industry in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, found that renewable energy generating capacity is increasing faster than it projected. Based on existing policies, the IEA updated its forecasts to show 825GW of new renewable capacity will be added globally from 2015-21, 13% more than it projected just last year.

Although the IEA’s stated goal is to provide impartial advice, it’s been criticized for publishing overly conservative estimates that have failed to predict the growth of wind and solar power. Bloomberg New Energy Finance provides graphs as shown below to illustrate the IEA’s previous underestimations of solar and wind power growth.

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According to a spokesman for the industry, this year’s forecasts seek to reflect the growing number of countries adopting climate change policies, as well as the global deal to curb carbon emissions and global warming agreed in Paris Climate Agreement.

The IEA expects the share of renewables in total power generation to rise to 28% from 21%. The rise would be driven by government policies to curb global warming and reduce air pollution, as well as falling prices of solar panels and wind turbines. The IEA expects the United States to pass the EU and become the second-biggest market for renewables after China in the next few years, thanks to an extension of federal tax credits to wind and solar producers.

Because electricity demand in rich countries is falling, more renewable power are expected to drive other sources of electricity out of the market. As shown below in a chart from Economist.com, electricity-generation growth from renewables is expected to displace that from conventional sources. In the U.S. or the EU, conventional sources would mean fossil fuels while for Japan it would refer primarily to nuclear power.

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How Clean Can An Electric Car Actually Get? – 10/13/16

How much cleaner can an electric car get compared to one running on conventional fuels? The answer is important, especially when controversies like a study finding that a Prius could be dirtier than a Hummer add to the confusion. To answer the question you have to look at the life cycle of the product from manufacturing to usage to disposal.

Starting with disposal, there is no significant difference in emissions between electric and non-electric cars at this stage, which sees minimal emissions relative to making and driving the car. The main environmental problem in disposal comes from the battery. Part of the issue with older electric hybrids like the Prius from the study was their reliance on lead acid batteries rather than the lithium-ion batteries used in newer electric car models like the Tesla Model 3 or 2017 Chevrolet Bolt. In addition to not dealing with the toxicity of lead, the rarity of components in the newer batteries has prompted extensive recycling programs to avoid shortages of cobalt, nickel, and lithium.

Next, usage. An electric car is only ever going to pollute indirectly i.e. charging the battery using electricity from a power plant that burns coal. In the past and in certain areas that still rely heavily on coal, the emissions from those plants were hardly better than those put out by burning gasoline. Nowadays, however, the US grid is being inundated with electricity from natural gas (at about 50% the pollution than traditional coal plants) and renewables.

That switch to cleaner power sources means a lot for electric vehicle (EV) emissions, as the graph from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) shows.

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  • for context, emissions free nuclear power supplies most of France’s electricity as opposed to heavy coal use in China.

Those cars may run twice as clean when they’re charged in a place that gets a lot of power from green energy, but the same car driving in a coal-burning region may yield a gain of just 20%, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Of course, fuel-efficiency standards are also pushing car makers to make engines that use less fuel.

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What this means for their emissions relative to EVs is depends heavily on the state or country you’re in.

In France, the gap has to narrow in the coming decade because regular engines are getting cleaner and the energy mix can’t get much cleaner.

In Japan, emissions from driving electric vehicles may actually rise as nuclear power plants are replaced with natural gas and coal in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

For the US, the state you live in matters a lot for this discussion as shown in the BNEF map of the carbon intensity of power for each state.

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Note the difference between coal state Wyoming and hydroelectric powerhouse Oregon.

For an idea how that map might change, look at what energy sources each state was installing in 2015.

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Finally, manufacturing.

A study done by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that making an EV results in 15% greater emissions than in manufacturing a similar gasoline vehicle. However, the same study was optimistic even this could be reduced and paled in comparison to the savings gained in the usage stage.

Assuming a grid composed of 80% clean electricity — France currently derives about 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy and about 14% from hydropower — the analysis would have a EV see at least a 25% reduction in emissions from manufacturing and an 84% reduction in emissions from driving. That combination would result in an overall reduction of more than 60% compared to today’s EVs, which are already about 40-50% cleaner than those running on gasoline or diesel.

So, basically, an electric car can get pretty darn clean, especially when the power grid that fuels it is running on renewable energy.

Renewables and Coal, Japan and Poland – 5/30/16

Poland and Japan: Two very different countries and with very different approaches to coal and renewable energy.


Environmental groups urged the Japanese government to announce a shift away from fossil-fuel financing ahead of the G-7 meeting to no avail.

“As the President of the G7, Japan has an obligation to be a leader, not a laggard on climate,” the environmentalists said in a petition. “First, Japan must stop subsidizing fossil fuels overseas. On the home front, it is time for Japan to reject the fossil fuel and nuclear technologies of last century and instead embrace a clean and sustainable energy future.”

Japan’s energy policy is under close scrutiny from environmentalists because of its reliance on and support for coal. The country has plans for 49 new coal-fired power projects even as some developed countries are shifting away from coal to reduce emissions and health risks. While resource-poor Japan has been trying to diversify its energy sources, the country’s leadership have held fast to the idea that coal would make up 26% of the nation’s power output in 2030 due to the closure of Japan’s nuclear capacity following the Fukushima disaster.

Yet, Japan’s program to encourage more clean sources of energy is starting to show some promising results, with the latest government data showing that the nation produced 45% more electricity from renewables like solar and wind for the fiscal year ending in March compared with a year earlier. Clean energy output, excluding hydro power, increased to 39.2 TW-hours in the 12 months ended March 31, according to data released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Solar outpaced other renewable sources, increasing 61 % to 31.3 TW-hours while wind rose 7% to 5.4 TW-hours. The Fukushima nuclear plant produced 29.3 TW-hours in 2010 before the disaster, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Japan derived 4.7% of its electricity from renewables last fiscal year when hydro isn’t included, according to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan. The government aims bring that number up to 14% by 2030.


In contrast, Poland’s controversial parliament approved a bill that introduces extra requirements for building wind parks as it aims to curb its booming wind industry that is hastening the demise of its loss-making coal industry.

The bill, put forward by the governing Law & Justice party, forces new turbines to be located further away from homes and would halt some new projects after a record expansion of wind energy last year. Poland, Europe’s top coal producer, notched up the continent’s second-highest number of wind-power installations last year with 1.26 GW of new capacity installed. The country now has 5.6 GW of installed wind capacity.

“We want to eliminate the import of used, outdated turbines from western countries,” Deputy Energy Minister Andrzej Piotrowski said in parliament on May 18.

The amended law, which now will be discussed in the Senate and has to be signed into law by the president, included a proposal envisaging potential jail terms for using wind farms without permission that was eventually scrapped.

The country’s six-month old cabinet says that Poland, which generates some 85% of its electricity from coal, has been too quick to support wind generation over its coal power plants. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, a miner’s daughter from southern Poland, pledged to keep the country of 38 million dependent on coal for decades to come.

The ruling party surprised the industry in December when it suspended the introduction of a new law regulating subsidies for renewable energy. The government also plans to rework an earlier plan to introduce renewable energy auctions in an attempt to reduce support for wind and solar power.

The regulatory uncertainty “is spooking investors and banks,” according to Giles Dickson, chief executive officer of the European Wind Power Association, a lobby group. Investors eager to secure debt funding for wind investments at Polish banks are charged from 9% to 10%, compared with 4% in neighboring Germany, he said on May 18.

Green Energy News From Abroad – 5/27/16

In green energy news from abroad, a report warning about stranded asset risks associated with Japanese investment in coal and Norway’s sovereign wealth fund on track to divest heavily from coal-related holdings.


In Japan, utilities and other companies are pushing ahead with new investments in coal-power plants in spite of the risk of creating $57 billion of stranded assets amid shifts in energy policy and the economics of power generation, according to a study by Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

The study claims that the amount of coal-fired generating capacity planned or under construction in Japan exceeds the capacity required to replace the nation’s retiring fleet by 191%.

“This may result in overcapacity and, combined with competition from other forms of generation capacity with lower marginal costs, lead to significant asset stranding of coal generation assets,” the authors said in the report titled Stranded Assets and Thermal Coal in Japan.

To put into context how odd Japan’s reliance on coal is, we can look at planned capacity additions for the United States.

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For the U.S., no significant coal capacity is planned for 2016. Instead, solar, natural gas, and wind are scheduled to make up the bulk of new generating capacity additions.

Unlike most developed nations, Japan has continued to rely on coal power in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster while pushing the development of “clean coal” and carbon capture technologies.

“Stranded coal assets would affect utility returns for investors; impair the ability of utilities to service outstanding debt obligations; and create stranded assets that have to be absorbed by taxpayers and ratepayers,” the authors said in the report.


In Scandinavia, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund may soon step up divestments of coal companies and other fossil fuels.

A majority of parties in Norway’s parliament are pushing for new guidelines that would prevent the fund from owning companies deriving than 30% revenues from thermal coal, according to a group lawmakers including opposition Labor, Norway’s biggest party.

The world’s biggest wealth fund, worth over $800 billion, has excluded more than 50 companies since February thanks to a ban agreed upon in 2015. It plans to announce more divestments later this year.

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The fund is one of the biggest investors to restrict coal-related holdings amid escalating international efforts to limit global warming.

Torstein Tvedt Solberg, who represents Labor on the Finance Committee, said they’re satisfied also with the financial implications of the ban on coal.

“We’ve made money by not being so heavily invested in coal,” he said. “As opposed to tobacco, our divestment from coal is a success when you look at the bottom line. The companies we’ve exited have plunged in stock value.”

Solar Developments: At Home and Abroad – 2/24/16

More solar developments are hitting the news each year. As the industry continues to grow in size and importance, solar is attracting more attention from nations looking to reduce emissions and entrenched interests looking to prevent the disruptive rise of another power source.

In the US, new solar installations are coming online at higher rates than any fossil fuels providing large increases in total capacity and solar sector jobs. Obligations to reduce emissions required under the Clean Power Plan as a means of meeting Paris Climate Change Agreement targets positions the zero-emission energy source for significant growth. Threats still exist, of course, for the industry as some states revisit their feed-in tariff and infrastructure usage fee legislation. As seen in the case of Nevada, solar is vulnerable to sudden changes in policy.

Aggressive legislative battles at the state level are becoming a defining feature of US solar. Financing solar energy for public institutions is one of the more interesting challenges facing a proponents as schools and churches – both large scale architecture that are well-suited to solar installation – are not tax-paying entities and as such do not receive federal tax breaks like businesses and residents. The most common financing option for public institutions is third-party financing but some states still have barriers to financing solar projects like North Carolina’s prohibition of such financing. Pushes to allow third-party energy sales, upgrade net metering policy, and make utilities invest more heavily in solar-friendly infrastructure improvements will become much more visible as the US states are driven to meet emission reductions obligations set by the Clean Power Plan.

In Japan, the post-Fukushima energy industry has seen a steadily growing solar market thanks to strong incentives for non-nuclear clean energy. Japan’s solar installations are expected to peak this year with the addition of 13-14 GW of panels, moving closer to 10-12 GW of installations next year. Japan is expected to cut its feed-in tariff for solar power producers by 11% while leaving rates for wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydro unchanged.

Technology, policy, and finance will decide solar’s future.

Falling costs via sustained technological progress have been a major boon to the solar industry. The IEA said in its Projected Costs of Generating Electricity report that “The costs of renewable technologies — in particular solar photo-voltaic — have declined significantly over the past five years.” Energy.gov provides the chart below which shows the monumental decrease in hard costs for solar panels over just the 2010-2013 period showing a major shift in share of total costs to soft costs.

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Though the policy battle for solar’s future is still raging, technological breakthroughs put more pressure on the financing and labor costs. Customer acquisition, installation labor, and supply chain costs make up over 30% of total costs nearly matching the cost of the actual panels. There are plenty of ways to cut costs in these areas but so far implementation has not keep up with the pace of hard cost reductions. Third-party financing would reduce up front costs and give more people the opportunity to install solar and learning-by-doing will also naturally reduce labor training costs over time. Much more exciting for customer acquisition departments will be the increased number of people and companies looking to solar as a means of cutting emissions.

Solar Power: Opportunities and Challenges – 2/7/16

2016 has only just begun but solar power is already set to have a year filled with record capacity additions and regulatory battles.

Japan, Germany, India, China, and the US are a few of the most vital sources of growth for solar power capacity. As five of the world’s largest economies, they are also battlegrounds for the future of electricity production.

Japan’s cabinet recently approved overhauls to the four years old incentive program for clean energy. The cabinets introduced auctions for solar projects similar to those used by Germany and India as a means of managing installations and cutting power costs. According BloombergBusiness, Japan projects renewables will provide as much as 24 percent of its power supply in 2030, according to a plan announced in July.

China added 15.1 GW of new solar last year for a total of 43.2 GW according to the National Energy Administration, which puts the country ahead of Germany in total capacity. China’s solar-based electricity production has increased by over 1300% since 2011 amid the country’s attempts to cut emissions. Solar and wind producers have benefited from heavy investment by the Chinese government as it has tried to reduce a reliance on coal that has caused dangerously high levels of air pollution.

For the US, the battle over solar’s future is still undecided. Opposition from utilities and skeptics in government has given proponents of the solar industry a difficult time securing policy victories but many recent successes show building momentum for favorable legislation. In the case of SolarCity, arguably one of the most visible solar companies, anti-solar policies of states like Nevada, where the PUCN reduced net metering return rates and increased fees for residential PV producers,  have been balanced out by policy wins in states like California, where regulators have supported preservation of retail payments for residential rooftop PV. Though news has been mixed for the company, its ability to stand up to utilities indicates growing political clout for large solar companies.

Oil and Gas Glut Continues – 12/25/15

As the oil and gas glut continues, commodity-linked companies that offered dividends to investors seeking consistent income must choose whether to cut back or risk lower cash reserves in a persistent rout. With stock prices in sharp decline and large debt burdens throughout the industry, dividend cuts would allow the companies to preserve capital in a time when bankruptcy is a clear danger but might also scare off investors in a time when their money is needed most. Unfortunately for the companies, pushes for increased fuel efficiency, pessimistic markets, and weak OPEC influence on prices suggest the oil and gas glut will continue. Many companies are preparing their budgets for the lower price market with write-downs becoming more common as other options dry up.

Hawaii has become the solar energy testing ground of the US. Unsurprisingly, solar has done well in the isolated and sunny state which has led to an interesting case study in solar and energy storage. Since the existing net energy metering tariff allowed homeowners to sell unused solar energy at the rate they would be charged to buy from a utility and retail rates are high in Hawaii, solar homes saved significant amounts in electricity costs. With the newer legislation, homeowners choose between self-supply, grid-supply at a reduced rate, and time-of-use rates. Storage is required to meet benefit level provided under the old system increasing the cost to home owners but adding an incentive to lower storage costs and increasing grid reliability as in-home battery systems smooth electricity usage.

Other issues in the news:

In distributed energy generation – Net-metering compensation is facing opposition as utilities see payments canceling income from electric bill, connection fees for grid access remain a touchy issue since home owners pay nothing into maintenance of the system they use to sell back electricity, and feed-in tariffs may see drop offs with the approach of grid parity as renewables become more economically competitive with oil and gas.

In Japan – Since the Fukushima disaster, Japan has been reluctant to embrace nuclear power again and, as a result, some of its cities have taken interest in other renewable energy sources. Though the country depends upon imports for almost all of its needs, the desire for self-sufficiency have led Japan to mimic the German system where municipal utilities took a greater role in production having a significant impact on traditional suppliers.

Demographics Threaten Asian Economies – 12/06/15

Demographic trends – long-term changes in the makeup of a population – drive or are driven by major turning points in human history. Improvements of technology lead to booms in population size, lower maternal mortality rates, and mass migrations. In the 21st century, the trends differ significantly from those of the past. Developed countries in Asia and Europe face especially troubling demographics trends such as graying populations, something that weighs down economies where fewer workers must provide for increasing numbers of elderly non-workers, and disproportionately high male-to-female birthrates in China and India, artifacts of cultural practices encouraging the birth of boys and the selective abortion and abandonment of girls, leaving the countries with skewed sex ratios and significantly weakened growth prospects.

In recent years, Japan has faced significant issues related to the aging of its populace as roughly 25% are 65 or older, a proportion likely to increase given low fertility rates and high life expectancy. A lack of young workers combined with a reluctance to expand immigration programs has encouraged the development of automation techniques and ways to utilize the elderly who still wish to participate in the labor force but leaves Japanese companies short-staffed. Low expectations for long-term growth have also scared off much needed capital investments. Though Japanese policies and technical innovations will  help to cushion the impact of an increasing number of dependents per worker, this greying trend is the new normal for developed countries. The aging of Japan represents a dilemma that many of the most populous and developed countries will face within a few decades.

China and India may face their own demographics crunches brought on by a lack of women. In China, a combination of One Child policy, Confucius traditions  encouraging a strong bias towards male heirs, and increasing urbanization has left the country with a dangerously skewed sex ratio, following years of anti-female birth practices, and a population with little incentive to the additional girls needed to sustain the society. Though the government scaled back its restrictions on the number of children each family could have, a slowing economy has discouraged families already having fewer children due to less need for large families in the urban area where an educated few tend to be more successful. India faces similar issues due to a patriarchal society and dowry system which have made having a female baby a social and financial liability.