Via Steve Hayward at Powerlineblog I see this article about Japan’s energy plans. The article is, IMHO, amusingly wrong in a number of ways even though its main point – that Japan is building new coal power plants, is certainly true.

The first thing that is wrong is the headline and this lede:

Most of the world is turning its back on burning coal to produce electricity, but not Japan. The nation has fired up at least eight new coal power plants in the past 2 years and has plans for an additional 36 over the next decade—the biggest planned coal power expansion in any developed nation

You can tell it’s wrong because there’s a () section before the sentence ends:

(not including China and India)

A disclaimer that ought to be read in one’s best Emily Litella voice. Also, notably, the article failed to mention that Germany, despite its Energiewende is now burning more coal than a decade ago.

Of course the main reason for this is that the Japanese public (along with the public of Germany and most of the rest of the developed world) has been bombarded with FUD regarding nuclear power and thus doesn’t want to have nuclear generated electricity. In the case of Japan the nuke issue had some points (despite the death toll from Fukushima being 0 ± 3) because it would be nice to think that the next big quake wouldn’t result in a similar near disaster, but not that much seeing as even with all the chaos and general mismanagement within TEPCO, as noted above the Nuclear issue caused approximately 0 deaths while the quake and tsunami caused 25,000 or so.

The article does in fact note that, but then ruins things with the follow on sentence:

The reversal is partly a result of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which punctured public support for atomic energy. Critics say it also reflects the government’s failure to encourage investment in renewable energy.

Critics are being somewhat “economical with the actualité”. The government certainly has encouraged investment in renewable energy as anyone who visits rural Japan will soon discover. The coastlines are packed with windfarms and there are solar panels on wasteland and former fields all over the place. From where I’m writing this there are dozens of wind turbines and solar panel farms within about a 10 mile range and more are being added all the time. Given the prevailing westerly winds in this area I suspect some of them may actually pay for themselves although I also note that even during days of decent wind you see about 50% idle for some reason.

Moreover anyone who looks at (new) housing will note that a large proportion of them have solar panels on south facing roofs and so on. Again from personal observation I can say that about a third of new build houses have solar power – based on the houses surrounding ours all built in the last 5 years – and that, while I need to do some double-checking to make sure I haven’t missed a critical expense, we’ll probably be joining them in the next year or so because it would cut our electricity bill to almost zero for about eight months of the year and the susbsidies are such that ROI is in the 5 year range. What one suspects the ‘critics’ mean is that the government is not redirecting all its pork barrel spending to renewable energy. This is confirmed by the bit at the end of the article:

After the Fukushima accident, he notes, the government adopted incentives for renewable power and started to tweak energy markets to make renewables more competitive. The moves led to a surge of investment in solar power.

But Kåberger says under current rules, Japan’s 10 regional utilities can still give their own generating plants priority access to transmission lines, which they also control. This creates uncertainty for those trying to sell renewable power into the grid. Such issues, together with subsidy cuts and other policy changes, last year led to a 32% decline in investment in solar power, says Hisayo Takada, Japan energy project leader for Greenpeace Japan in Tokyo.

A 32% decline in investment still means a lot of investment. The existing solar farms won’t suddenly go away, there will just be fewer additional ones than there might otherwise be. This is not necessarily a bad thing since it suggests that solar power is being deployed on terms that are somewhat rational and not unsustainable terms as they were in Spain.

What is most notable about the article is how it fails to mention hydropower, perhaps because Japan is approaching the limit of deployable hydopower and has more pumped storage than anywhere else. All the rivers around here (and indeed pretty much all of Japan) have dams and hydroelectric generation on them and hydroelectric power is responsible for about 8% of total electrical power.

All in all, while the article doesn’t manage to say it, it makes a good case for the fact that Japan is about as energy efficient and low carbon as is reasonable. Given that it has essentially no fossil fuel deposits of its own and has to import them all from somewhere coal is actually a pretty logical choice. It’s cheap, it’s easy to transport and store and accidents in transportation result in a lump of black rocks strewn across the place which is not exactly a major pollution incident.

In many other nations, natural gas has replaced coal as a fuel source because gas costs less. But in Japan, “coal is cheap,” says Takeo Kikkawa, an energy economist at Tokyo University of Science and a member of an METI advisory council on energy. That’s because the nation must import natural gas in its relatively expensive liquefied form.

The new energy plan would cement coal’s central role. Endorsed on 26 March by an METI advisory council, and likely to be adopted by the Cabinet later this year, it calls for nuclear plants to be restarted, boosting their share of electricity generation to between 20% and 22% by 2030. Renewable energy’s share would rise slightly, to between 22% and 24%, with solar energy alone accounting for 7%. But fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—would provide 56%.

To anyone other than an environmental zealot that makes a lot of sense. Fortunately Japan, unlike say Germany, is not filled with environmental zealots so it looks like sanity will prevail.