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Japan energy firms aiming to achieve Suga's 2050 zero carbon goal

This photo taken on Sept. 29, 2018, from a Kyodo News helicopter shows a solar power plant operated by Mitsui Fudosan Co., a real estate firm, in Tomakomai, Hokkaido. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Major Japanese electric power companies are aiming to strengthen power grids, increase solar and wind energy, and develop technologies to help achieve Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the country to net zero by 2050.

    They say revolutionary technological innovation is necessary to respond to the challenge, including expanding the use of next-generation energy sources such as hydrogen and ammonia, which does not emit carbon dioxide when burned.

    Amid global concern on climate change, Japan has often drawn criticism for its dependence on coal-fired power plants, significant contributors to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

    A signatory to the 2015 Paris climate accord, Japan's reliance on renewable energy is low compared with other countries, taking up in fiscal 2018 only 16.9 percent of the total power generated by the country.

    In contrast, Italy's green energy share in 2017 compared with its total was 35.3 percent, while it was 33.4 percent for Germany, and 29.6 percent for Britain, according to data tallied by the Japanese government.

    Shikoku Electric Power Co. will set up on Nov. 1 an office tasked with tripling the utility's renewable energy production domestically and overseas to a total of 500,000 kilowatts by fiscal 2030.

    Electric Power Development Co., or J-Power, is developing carbon-recycling technology for capturing CO2 to use it to generate commodities including chemicals, fuels and concrete products.

    J-Power President Toshifumi Watanabe said, "We are going to achieve zero (CO2 emissions) using technology."

    Jera Co., a joint venture between Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and Chubu Electric Power Co., is planning to shift its power generation to only using ammonia fuel in the future.

    The venture at present generates power by mixing coal-fired technology with ammonia fuel, which does not emit CO2 when combusted.

    The company also plans to use hydrogen from 2030 as an energy source for its power plants.

    A Hokkaido Electric Power Co. official said "radical technological innovation is crucial" to achieve the net zero CO2 emission goal.

    A Tokyo Electric official said reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not so difficult a task, terming it like "cutting grass."

    "But you cannot achieve net zero emissions without building tunnels and bridges," the official said, adding that a holistic approach is needed.

    The government and power companies intend to jointly formulate a plan as early as next year to strengthen the country's power grids to encourage the use of renewable energies.

    The government is installing a hub in Japan to encourage wind energy production, particularly offshore wind power which is easier to harness stably than inland wind power.

    Meanwhile, private companies are developing plans for power plants in northern Japan along the Sea of Japan coast.

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