Japan meets Energy and Environment

This is the first of a (hopefully) series of blogposts on the implications of the Fukushima NPP1 accident in the Japanese electricity landscape. Unless stated otherwise all data comes from International Energy Agency’s public statistics on electricity.

I will reserve my opinions, economics, etc. for future posts, but the aim here is to present the impact on electricity generation in Japan of the progressive shutdown of Japanese nuclear power plants. As a matter of fact, in the first three months of 2012, Japan electricity had the highest fossil fuel ratio since at least the establishment of the Federation of Electricity Power Companies (FEPC) short after WWII (pre 2011 data comes from FEPC). Just how dirty is that? Well, enough to make emissions from hyped Electric Vehicles worse than regular gasoline hybrids (link).

However, in order to understand the implications better, I will compare Japanese figures with those of other large, developed, populated, and relatively industrial countries. Among those I’ve chosen:

  • Germany, because it is both Japan’s major economic rival within Europe and the highest profile advocate of denuclearization.
  • France, because it’s the country with the highest ratio of electricity produced by nuclear power.
  • Spain, because it’s the large European country with the highest ratio of electricity produced by renewables.
  • South Korea: because it’s the closest country to Japan within Asia in terms of economic structure, population density and availability of natural resources.

Simplified background

After Fukushima, reactions have been very different in all of them:

  • Germany has claimed a non-return trip to a nuclear-free electricity grid, shutting down the 7 oldest reactors immediately, and enforcing the 2022 deadline for the rest of them later on. That decision has been taken along with a renewed emphasis on renewable sources, which is commonly referred to in Germany as the “energy revolution”.
  • France made no immediate policy changes, and all of its 58 nuclear reactors kept producing electricity through the year. During his campaign, socialist new president Hollande has advocated to reduce the nuclear electricity share down to 50% from current 75%, but without setting any precise deadline, nor establishing any precise plant closing plans. That said, given left-right traditional power changes in France and the fact that right-wing parties remain strong atom advocates, it is unlikely that major policy shifts can reshape the long-term French electricity structure anytime soon.
  • Crisis-hit Spain, where a Nuclear moratorium is in place since 1984, has made no immediate post-Fukushima policy changes, and all nuclear power plants remained active through the FY12. For years Spain has been investing strongly in both wind and solar power, but to my knowledge now has no clear long term energy plan in sight. One of the first decisions of the new right-wing majority after Nov11 elections was though ensuring the controversial Garoña NPP can operate up to 48 years (2019). The Garoña NPP is one of the many Fukushima NPP1 Unit1 twins around the world.
  • South Korea took no immediate measures, and his future energy planning counts on an increasing nuclear energy share, which is expecting to rise from about 30% now to above 50% in 2030 (National Energy Committee 2008.8.27). That is to say, with already 7 reactors under construction expected to go online on 2016, a plan that follows Japanese pre-Fukushima scenario, except that S. Korea has so far showed no intention to change it.

Electricity generation share

Evolution during Japanese FY12 (Apr11-Mar12)

In the following graph you can see:

  • The evolution of Japanese electricity generation share by source since January 2011 (a little before the March 2011 quake) up to March 2012.
  • The resulting CO2 intensity (in grams of CO2 per kWh) of such electricity during Japanese FY12 (fiscal year 2012) vs. FY11. Values for Japan are computed according the following life cycle analysis (LCA), and assuming fossil fuels share among oil/gas/coal is similar to 2009. Spanish values are included for comparison; detailed generation data comes from Red Electrica Española, and CO2 factors where obtained by applying same Japanese LCA corrections to Spanish official generation-only figures (IDAE 2010).

I believe the graphs speak for themselves but, with a fossil fuel generation rate approaching 90%, by the end of FY12 Japan electricity generation has become one of the dirtiest among developed countries. Also, when taking in account LCA considerations, every electrical kWh used in Japan nowadays requires about twice the amount of greenhouse gases emissions than that generated in a country like Spain.

Change from FY11 (Apr10-Mar11) to FY12

As higlighted by the graph above, the most obvious changes in electricity generation 1 year after the Fukushima accident were:

  • Japan’s sharp drop in nuclear energy generation, since NPPs have been progressively shut down through the year with no restarts being allowed until very recently. Nuclear share has been basically replaced by more fossil fuels.
  • Germany’s closure of the oldest seven NPPs has resulted in a noticeable share drop, which has been taken both by renewables and fossil fuels.
  • Spain renewable generation has posted a noticeable drop, which has been replaced by fossil fuels.

Electricity from renewable sources

The overall picture though is not enough to understand the small details. So first of all, let’s have a look at renewable energy generation, which includes Hydro, Solar, Wind, Geothermal, etc. In the graph below, the good old hydro-power is measured against all the other sources combined.

Several points can be made from that data:

  • Against popular belief, Japan actually produces more electricity from renewable sources than Germany. Actually, in FY11 Germany was also behind both Spain and France in total generation, though France and Spain drops in FY12 set them behind Japanese and German push in absolute numbers.
  • The fact is that non hydro renewable electricity production was up both in Spain and France, but both registered a large drop in hydroelectric power. The reason has to be found in the prolonged drought that hit Europe past year, and specially the southern countries. In Spain, it’s been the driest year since 1912, which has prompted to ask European help since March. The same “good weather” helped boost German solar electricity production to new records, highlighting the dependency of renewables production from environmental factors.

Germany’s Nuclear demise

The other point that I believe requires a more detailed view is how has German’s demised nuclear energy been replaced. To analyze that, it’s not enough to look at the generation numbers, but also at international exchanges between European nations. Early in the year some were quick to claim Germany would become net importer, others fought back later to prove that wasn’t the case. The graph below shows what happened since Germany shut down its 7 oldest NPPs.

As you can see, about half of it was replaced by an increase in renewables production, but that’s only half of the picture. The other half was made up by a shift on the import/export balance (mainly importing more from Nuclear France & Chech Republic and exporting less), decreased electricity use, and yes, an increase on fossil fuels production.

In other words, because of the demise of those nuclear power plants, and despite posting impressive growth in renewable electricity generation and using less electricity, the overall electricity in Germany was dirtier in FY12 than in FY11. It also required a shift in the commercial balance and needed the support from its European neighbours.

The electricity road ahead a nuclear-energy free Japan

Finally, all year long energy debate has been passionate, and there have been many in Japan looking to Germany as a “model” to follow, while advocating for Japan to abandon nuclear power in favor of renewable sources of electricity generation. The following graph simply illustrates the task ahead if Japan is to take that road, assuming it uses no more electricity than in 2010.

As you can see, as remarkable as the German solar and wind push might have been, simply replacing 2010 Japanese nuclear generation would take:

  • 4 times the cumulated historical German effort up to now.
  • 13 times the effort made during the first year of “energy revolution”.

At that point, and without considering any economic matter, Japan would still have done nothing to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation, nor to address any of the problems some believe climate change will bring, or are already bringing.

And that’s it for now. Future posts will address some of the many other dimensions, both economic and social, of the implications of the accident and Japanese future energy policy.

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Comments on: "Electricity in Japan; A year after Fukushima Accident" (3)

  1. Jose A. said:

    Glad to see you back Daniel!

    Some links that may be useful to you in future posts:

    Boletín Hidrológico Nacional

    Official Spanish report in all hidrology matters, with data of the status of their dams.

    CO2 emissions in the German electricity mix (German)

    Report by the German Federal Environmental Agency with estimates for 2011.

    TABLE-German utilities build, revamp power plants

    A list, obtained by Reuters from energy industry association BDEW at the Hanover industrial fair, of electricity generation units that power plant operators are planning or building in Germany.

  2. [...] Why Japan should not be thinking in ways of decreasing electricity supply, but increasing generation as much as possible while relying in both Renewable and Nuclear Energies if it is to address its reliance on (foreign) fossil fuels. In particular, the challenge of road transport electrification should not be neglected, since compleeting it would require nearly doubling electricity supply, which should not be worse than burning oil itself (as it was early this year). [...]

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