Japan will close the majority of its aging coal-fired power plants over the next decade as it looks to cut down on carbon emissions and shift toward using more renewable energy, government sources said Thursday.
Resource-poor Japan relies on coal for about a third of its energy needs. Of the 140 coal-fired generators in the country, 114 are older and considered to be low efficiency. The government aims to take about 100 of them offline in stages by fiscal 2030.
Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama broached the idea in a meeting on Thursday with the heads of Japan's largest electric utilities, according to an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Kajiyama is expected to announce the move as early as Friday.
The ministry plans to set up an expert panel to come up with ways to push electric utilities away from coal, with one option being the setting of quotas on the amount of electricity they are allowed to produce using low efficiency generators.
The government will promote solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy, which provides just 17 percent of Japan's electricity generation, as well as look to restart more of the nuclear reactors that were halted following the 2011 Fukushima crisis.
Under its Strategic Energy Plan, released in 2018, Japan aims to reduce its dependence on coal from 32 percent to 26 percent by fiscal 2030, while boosting renewable energy to 22 to 24 percent, and nuclear energy from 6 percent to 20 to 22 percent within the same time frame.
The country will continue to use coal because it is less subject to geopolitical risk and is more cost effective than oil, according to the plan. Twenty-six of Japan's existing coal-fired generators are considered to be high efficiency, and 16 more are currently under construction.
"There's still a loophole for electric utilities to continue using coal. More needs to be done to fight global warming," said Kimiko Hirata, international director at Kiko Network, an environmental group based in Tokyo and Kyoto.
Japan has been criticized for dragging its feet on cutting carbon emissions, being the only member of the Group of Seven industrialized nations still pursuing new coal-fired power plants.
Last December, the country was twice awarded the "Fossil of the Day" award from an environmental group for refusing to stop using coal during a U.N. climate change conference in Madrid.
In March, it maintained its target of a 26 percent reduction from fiscal 2013 levels by fiscal 2030 under the Paris Agreement despite calls to set a more ambitious goal.
Japan is also promoting its coal technology in developing countries, arguing that some parts of the world cannot afford to quit coal yet and that improving efficiency is a more realistic option.