Power, fear, and carbon in Japan: the Iron Rule of Power Generation II

Note the rise in combustible fuel generation, and the drop in nuclear generation, after 2010. That is the Iron Rule of Power Generation at work. When nuclear goes down, carbon goes up. Source: OECD Electricity Information 2013, page IV.439. Click to enlarge.

Note the rise in combustible fuel generation, and the drop in nuclear generation, after 2010. That is the Iron Rule of Power Generation at work. When nuclear goes down, carbon goes up. Source: OECD Electricity Information 2013, page IV.439. Click to enlarge.

On March 11 2011, a 14-meter-high tsunami, triggered by an earthquake of unimaginable power, smashed the northeast coast of Japan. The tsunami killed about 20,000 people pretty much immediately. Watch any video of this catastrophe and you will see why. The wave also knocked out the backup power to a nuclear plant. As a result, three of that plant’s reactors lost cooling water and melted down. The panic over the meltdowns was understandable given the fear in the worldwide pop culture over anything associated with nuclear. That fear is grotesquely out of proportion to the actual danger that the meltdowns posed: after 2,809 days, not a single person has died or even gone to the hospital because of any harm caused by nuclear radiation.

But the Japanese public were spooked anyway. For that reason, the government shut down almost all the nuclear plants. And for that reason, Japan started burning more fossil fuels to make electricity. And that led to skyrocketing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the country that hosted the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the aim of which was to reduce GHG emissions. As you can see in the chart above, emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal GHG, from Japanese power generation by combustible fuels, skyrocketed: from just over 531 million metric tons in 2010 to nearly 650 million in 2012.

The above chart illustrates starkly the Iron Rule of Power Generation. When you remove a type of energy that provides large-scale, steady, 24/7 power generation from a modern power grid, you must replace it with another form of generation that has those same attributes. Which is to say, if you remove nuclear then you must replace it with some form of combustible fuel, usually coal, oil, or gas.

Japan is no different than any other country in this respect. The generators in its combustible fuel-fired generating fleet run on coal (31.5 percent), oil (18.5 percent), natural gas (46 percent), with a tiny amount of biofuels and waste (4 percent).

And, because of the nuclear meltdown, which to repeat has yet to produce a single casualty after 2,809 days, combustible fuel generation now makes up 89.5 percent of Japan’s power.

These numbers come from the OECD Electricity Information 2013 publication, p. IV.439.

How did I get the CO2 data?
All CO2 estimates in this article are based on estimates of CO2 output by different types of combustible fuel generation.

Generation fuel type output in Japan is given in the OECD publication Electricity Information 2013, p. IV.439.

Japan burns four types of combustible fuel to make electricity. These are: natural gas, coal, oil, and biofuels/waste.

I assigned a top-level emission factor to each of these types. This method is crude and does not account for power conversion technology or operating conditions of each generator. But each factor is in a generally accepted ballpark. I am confident that the emission estimates are generally accurate.

Here are the CO2 emission factors I assigned to the four types of combustible fuels that Japan uses to make electricity:

  1. Natural gas = 550 grams per kWh
  2. Coal = 900 grams per kWh
  3. Oil = 700 grams
  4. Biofuels and waste = 900 grams

That proportion will not drop until Japan faces its fears over nuclear, admits they are wildly out of proportion to the actual danger it poses, and returns its nuclear fleet to service.

Here is a table with the OECD numbers (again, from Electricity Information 2013, p. IV.439) that the chart above is based on.

Japan power generation in TWh, and carbon emissions

 19731980199020002005201020112012e
Nuclear9.782.6202.3322304.8288.2101.811.2
Hydro71.792.195.896.886.490.791.785.7
Combustible fuels388.6400.7542.2635.9702.2727.8845.4925.5
CO2, megatons277.905279.305379.915456.935520.88531.14599.3649.665

And here is a table that shows the CO2 emissions associated with each type of combustible fuel generation in Japan. For the specific CO2 emission factors applied to each fuel, see the Info box “How did I get the CO2 data?” above. Compare Japan’s CIPK of grid electricity with that of Ontario in Table 1 in the upper right sidebar.

Japan power generation CO2 emissions by fuel, million tons

 19731980199020002005201020112012e
Coal33.5749.41105.03209.07273.15268.11252.99262.35
Oil238.56185.29173.5395.9796.3965.59107.31119.77
Natural gas5.7844.6191.91138.22131.45165.22205.70234.25
Biofuels & waste0.000.009.4513.6819.8932.2233.3033.30
TOTAL277.91279.31379.92456.94520.88531.14599.30649.67
CIPK, grams590.91484.65451.21431.68473.61475.46570.06628.49
What is the CIPK, and how is it calculated?
CIPK stands for CO2 Intensity Per Kilowatt-hour. It is a measure of the carbon content of a kilowatt hour of grid electricity.

The CIPK of a given grid is simply the amount of CO2 emitted by the generating plants that feed the grid with electricity, divided by the total amount of electricity fed, over a given hour. Of course, you have to know both of these figures.

Here is how to calculate Ontario’s grid CIPK. You need to refer to Table 1, in the upper left-hand sidebar on this page. Table 1 gives the current Ontario grid generation mix (it draws from data published at www.ieso.ca), and the CO2 emissions associated with the emitting fuel types.

  1. Go to the Total row in Table 1.
  2. Take the figure from the CO2, tons column.
  3. While still in the Total row, now take the figure in the MW column.
  4. Divide the CO2, tons figure by the MW figure.
  5. Multiply that result by 1,000. This converts tons-per-megawatt-hour into grams per kilowatt-hour.

Try it!

Compare Japan’s CIPK of grid electricity with that of Ontario in Table 1 in the upper right sidebar. If you want to know why there is such a difference, look at the amount of nuclear in Ontario’s electricity system versus that in Japan’s.

9 comments for “Power, fear, and carbon in Japan: the Iron Rule of Power Generation II

  1. James Greenidge
    December 19, 2013 at 13:20

    Seasons Greetings!

    Re: “For that reason, the government shut down almost all the nuclear plants. And for that reason, Japan started burning more fossil fuels to make electricity.”

    The knee-jerk illogic and irrationality of that is really truly crazy to behold if one thinks about it. Trading a tried-and-tested peaceful Peter for a chronically murderous Paul in your household. That fear rules reason and fact so easily is as terrifying as the mob mindset prevailing German in the 1930s. I hope the general nuclear community steps in for disseminating public nuclear education programs via programming and Ads in Germany and Japan because as we’ve seen unchecked FUD spreads. Canada’s living proof of nuclear-environmental harmony could be a good example in this enlightenment.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • December 19, 2013 at 15:21

      James, thanks — seasons greetings to you too. Really enjoy your comments and appreciate very much your support.

      I worry in the same way about our fellow humans’ predilection for hysteria and kneejerk irrationality, and, worse, the willingness of some to exploit that in order to further their own narrow fame and fortune.

      But I have hope. We got over fear of fire, and we will get over this. I just hope that happens sooner rather than later

  2. Pete51
    December 19, 2013 at 16:48

    If you would allow me to quibble some on the numbers you use…
    550 grams of CO2 per kwh for natural gas seems a little too high, while 900 grams for coal might be too low.

    Using the emission factors and latest heat rates from the US EIA…
    http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/1605/coefficients.html
    http://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_08_01.html

    For natural gas:
    (8039 BTU/kwh) x (53 kgCO2/1E6 BTU) x (1000 g/kg) = 426 grams/kwh

    For coal:
    (10,498 BTU/kwh) x (95 kgCO2/1E6 BTU) x (1000 g/kg) = 997 grams/kwh

    Heat rate is really just a measure of thermal efficiency. If 550 grams/kwh is used for gas, this implies an average plant efficiency of 32.9%. But US natural gas power plants have average efficiencies of 42.4%. The new combined cycle gas plants are advertized as having 60% efficiency, which will greatly cut down on their CIPKs. I don’t know where Japan currently stands, but if they are going to burn more natural gas in the future, they will probably also start building combined cycle power plants to burn it.

    I am as much of a nuclear supporter as anyone, but it is difficult for nuclear to compete against cheap natural gas, particularly when the combined cycle plants are so efficient. Add in the anti-nuclear public who wants to believe the FUD spread by the fear mongers, and it becomes even more difficult.

    • December 19, 2013 at 16:58

      Pete, I appreciate you taking the time — quibble away. The 550 grams is from an Environment Canada assessment of the gas CIPK in Ontario in the early to mid 2000s. They tell me that that takes into account not just thermal efficiency but the fact that CCGTs often burn fuel even when not formally putting power into the grid.

      And you are right, 900 grams is likely low-balling coal. It depends on the grade of coal and other things.

      Sooner or later I’ll get to quantifying these things more precisely, see if I can come up with a standard.

      • December 20, 2013 at 12:36

        Steve, speaking of quibbles, feel free to offer your own appraisal of my appraisal of Argonne’s appraisal of the potential emissions savings from wind power in Illinois:

        http://ergosphere.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-false-promise-of-renewables-1-wind.html

        • Jay Harris
          January 1, 2014 at 18:17

          Also the issue with gas is that CCGT’s are usually used in baseload applications. Not all baseload gas plants are CCGT’s, some are straight thermal, and some are legacy plants. So you would be starting with some of the baseload gas fleet down in the 33% efficiency range. True, as newer technology CCGT’s are coming online the average efficiency for an entire nations gas fleet of baseload generators will rise, and the Carbon consequences will fall. However, no one can change their fleet over night, and noone is going to throw away a perfectly good existing gas plant just because it’s efficiency and Carbon per KWh are not as good as newer plants. The business case tends to support keeping all legacy power plants running for as long as possible.
          Also not all gas plants are baseload, CCGT, or even thermal. Fast peaking gas plants which make up the difference on large power demand curves have ugly efficiency numbers which can be as low as 14% efficiency, however they are very fast to respond to market demand and are thus very important.
          Generally the more non-dispatchable renewables you have, the more peaking capacity you require as well. So too many non-dispatchables can raise your carbon emissions per KWh generated (decreased performance).
          Thus even if the newest gas plants get to 60% efficiency, the entire gas fleet efficiency will still be less than that. You need to examine an entire market’s gas generation fleet, and look at their power trends to determine the real outputs in terms of fuel efficiency and carbon emissions per KWh.
          Also even coal plants have differing performance values across a wide range of values. Thermal/fuel Efficiency, availability/capacity factor, and emissions control technologies which also need to be examined in terms of particulates, NOx, sulphur’s, mercury, and even radioactive emissions released to the environment. As it was pointed out, the source of the coal makes a huge difference as well.

          Jay Harris.

    • Mitch
      December 19, 2013 at 21:51

      Obama wants to force drug companies to make all life-saving drugs affordable to the poor and those who can’t afford it. Nobody complains. Fossile fuels is cancer to the enivronment so shouldn’t we use clean nuclear in its place to save our environment no matter the cost too?

      • Dogmug
        December 20, 2013 at 04:18

        “Obama wants to force drug companies to make all life-saving drugs affordable to the poor and those who can’t afford it.”

        Sounds good to me!

        “Nobody complains.”

        Why should they? The drug companies’ research is done with extensive taxpayer support, and their licenses protect them from competition in the Free Marketplace of Drugs.

        “Fossile fuels is cancer to the enivronment so shouldn’t we use clean nuclear in its place to save our environment … ?”

        That also sounds good to me!

        President Obama has frequently spoken in favor of nuclear. His campaign manager and confidante, David Axelrod, was a nuclear lobbyist for some time.

        “… no matter the cost …”

        The cost of nuclear is artificially inflated; all other energy industries get a pass when it comes to cleaning up their messes while nuclear is 100% responsible for its own.

        Even the drug companies are given government help when they go astray.

  3. Mitch
    December 23, 2013 at 10:29

    Check out nation stats on Google. Countries like Iceland and Finland rank high among “greenest” countries with hydro and geotherm, but why doesn’t Google call nations or states mostly powered by nuclear power “green” which have the same or even better rated pollution or greenhouse index? Is Google owned by Greenpeace?

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