Continued from Interview: Diet Member Pushes for Expansion of Renewable Energy (1)

Concerns about 'imported biomass'

Q: We sometimes hear about expectations for biomass power generation in local communities. Plans for construction of biomass power plants that use imported fuels such as Palm Kernel Shells (PKS) have been increasing rapidly. What is your opinion about expansion of renewable energies using "imported biomass"?

Akimoto: The Parliamentary Association for Promotion of Renewable Energies thinks the rapid increase of imported biomass is somewhat problematic. Small-scale power generation plants that use biomass alone are acceptable, but mixing of biomass for burning with coal at large-scale coal-fired thermal power plants such as those exceeding 100MW of output does not agree with the basic purpose of the FIT scheme.

Biomass fuels were conventionally mixed for use at coal-fired thermal power plants by only several percent. However, they can be mixed by up to 30% now due to advances in technology (Fig. 2). If biomass is mixed by 30% for use at 100MW-class coal-fired power plants and the power generated by using imported fuels is sold at the current high tariff, the situation is far from the goal that the FIT scheme aims for.

Fig. 2: The biomass/coal co-combustion-type coal-fired thermal power plant operated by the Osaka Gas Group (Note: Light-green chimneys and structures in the foreground of the picture) (source: Osaka Gas)

It is ideal that the ratio of domestic fuels is improved through collaboration with the primary industries of Japan including the forestry industry by biomass power generation. Reduction of CO2 emissions generated by burning coals, conforming to the concept of carbon neutral, is not enough, we think.

However, it is possible that domestic demand for wood chips is increased by using "imported biomass" at the beginning and then the cost competitiveness of domestic biomass is improved through technological innovation in the future, aiming for replacement of imported fuels with domestic fuels. In promoting biomass power generation, the introduction volume should be adjusted according to the tariff while evaluating this kind of merit of imported biomass.