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5 February 2020

Japan’s proposed coal-plants highlight energy transition challenges

The announcement of plans to construct 22 new coal-burning power plants in Japan has raised concerns far beyond the nation’s borders. Following the decision to shift away from nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, the Japanese energy makeup has struggled to build-up renewable sources of energy to respond to the resulting gap. Currently, renewably sourced energy only makes up 16% of the national energy makeup and natural gas, oil, and fossil fuels now account for some 80% of the country’s electricity needs.

The situation was dire following the removal of nuclear power which left the country struggling to compensate for the loss of a third of its electricity production capacity. Other countries currently planning to abandon coal as a source of energy in the next five to ten years have much more ample renewable energy systems to respond to the reduction of coal. However, many of these nations continue to rely on nuclear power to make up the gap in the interim, such as Britain where nuclear power accounts for 18.4% alongside the 38.9% provided by renewable resources. Germany, meanwhile, has also cut down on its use of nuclear power, once providing 25% of the country’s energy, the proportion was cut down to a mere 12%. Here too, however, while renewables account for a combined 49%, the damage done by the roughly 20% of fossil fuel, oil, and gas in energy production is significant and has been estimated to potentially cost the lives of many residents due to air pollution. ‘

The struggles Japan and Germany are making in overhauling their energy structures away from nuclear and fossil fuels at once are considerable and can, without careful oversight and management, lead to considerable stagnation in the progress towards zero-carbon energy. This risk highlights the need for dynamic collaboration among the energy industries of various countries in developing novel solutions to respond to such seemingly impossible tasks.
Read more about the controversy in Japan 
Read more about Britain’s energy structure 
Energy mix in Germany