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Wednesday, 26 August 20
JAPAN'S COAL IMPORTS ARE BEING AFFECTED BY COMPETING INFLUENCES - REPORT
Japan is the world’s third largest thermal coal importer, importing an estimated 135 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2019. The country’s thermal coal imports were broadly stable year-on-year in the four months to April. Japan’s imports are forecast to decline by around 2 million tonnes to 133 million tonnes in 2020. Low LNG prices and subdued energy demand due to COVID-19 should weigh on thermal coal imports. However, imports should also receive support from the shutdown of a number of nuclear power plants (which compete with thermal coal in electricity generation) that need to finish upgrades to comply with counter terrorism measures said Office of the Chief Economist’ of Australia in its Resources and Energy Quarterly June 2020 report in early July 2020.
 
Beyond 2020, according to report, there are competing trends at work. Japan has new coal-fired capacity under construction. However, energy demand in Japan is on a downward trend, and Japan is planning to shift its power generation mix towards nuclear and renewable energy, and away from gas and coal. The 2011 Fukushima disaster resulted in the closure of Japan’s nuclear fleet. At the time of writing, only nine of Japan’s 42 nuclear reactors had gained approval to restart. More reactors are likely to come back online by 2022, with 18 reactors having submitted applications to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority to restart. The pace of nuclear restarts is the main uncertainty affecting the outlook for Japan’s thermal coal imports. Nuclear energy in Japan continues to face public opposition and legal challenges. There remain significant risks of delays and slippages in nuclear restarts. 
 
South Korea’s imports to decline as energy transition accelerates 
The report noted that, South Korea is the world’s fourth largest thermal coal importer, purchasing an estimated 99 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2019. South Korea’s thermal coal imports fell steeply year-on-year in the four months to April 2020, down around 20 per cent, as COVID-19 affected power demand and the country scaled up its temporary closure of coal-fired power stations to curb air pollution. Over the past few years, the South Korean government has introduced regulations that require coal-fired power stations in South Korea to shut down or operate at reduced capacity during certain periods of the year, particularly over winter, or when air pollution reaches certain thresholds. South Korea’s government has also introduced new tax arrangements aimed at encouraging the use of gas over coal. South Korea’s thermal coal imports are forecast to fall to 93 million tonnes in 2020. In 2021 and 2022, South Korea’s imports are forecast to remain broadly stable at around 93 million tonnes, with increasing power demand offset by the impact of policies to reduce coal use. South Korea’s long-term plan is to shift its energy mix towards renewables and gas, and away from nuclear and coal. Under South Korea’s energy plan, no new coal-fired power or nuclear capacity will be added, aside from that already under construction. 
 
Under South Korea’s draft 2020-2034 energy plan, the current target of 36 per cent for coal’s share of power generation in 2034 would be cut to 15 per cent. Taiwan’s imports to decline under national energy plan Taiwan’s thermal coal imports were broadly steady in 2019, at an estimated 58 million tonnes. 
 
Power demand in Taiwan was resilient to the impacts of COVID-19 in early 2020, thermal coal imports have declined year-on-year due to the government’s energy transition policies. Thermal coal imports are expected to decline in 2020, falling to 55 million tonnes. In 2021 and 2022, Taiwan’s thermal coal imports are expected to decline slightly further. Taiwan is aiming to shift its power generation mix towards gas and renewables, and away from nuclear and coal. Under Taiwan’s current energy plan, coal’s share of power generation would fall from 46 per cent at present to 27 per cent in 2025.  While government policy is expected to reduce Taiwan’s thermal coal imports, 
 
Taiwan does face challenges in achieving a rapid energy transition. Taiwan will need to quickly bring on LNG regasification capacity in order to ramp up LNG imports, and project slippage remains a risk. Taiwan’s energy plan also envisages a 10-fold expansion in solar photovoltaic capacity, but Taiwan is densely populated, and access to land to support the ramp up remains a major challenge. To date, Taiwan’s expansion of offshore wind generation has gone relatively smoothly, with greater government control over offshore development rights.  
 
According to Office of the Chief Economist’ of Australia, Southeast and South Asia to be a key source of import growth In 2019, Southeast and South Asia (excluding India) imported an estimated 153 million tonnes of thermal coal. The largest importers of thermal coal in Southeast Asia were Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. In South Asia, Pakistan was the largest thermal coal buyer, followed by Bangladesh. While countries in Southeast and South Asia are relatively small importers individually, collectively, the region is expected to play a substantial role in thermal coal markets going forward. 
 
Resources and Energy Quarterly June 2020 report of Office of the Chief Economist’ of Australia further noted that, the Vietnam’s thermal coal imports appear to have grown strongly in the first five months of 2020, with total coal imports reaching record high levels in April and May, as power demand climbed. The impacts of COVID-19 in early 2020 were more pronounced in a number of other nations in South and South East Asia. Power generators in the Philippines are reportedly expecting to cut coal imports this year, as measures aimed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic reduce power demand. In 2020, Southeast and South Asia’s imports are forecast to decline to 144 million tonnes. After 2020, the thermal coal imports of Southeast and South Asia are expected to increase, reaching 178 million tonnes in 2022. 
 
Economic and population growth is driving the demand for electricity, and coal-fired power generation is expected to play a key role in meeting growing usage. While project cancellations appear to have been rising in recent years, the completion of coal-fired power stations currently under construction is expected to drive the region’s demand for thermal coal imports higher over the next few years. Vietnam is expected to be a key driver of import demand growth. Under Vietnam’s Power Development Plan, coal-fired power will account for 49 per cent of the nation’s electricity generation capacity by 2025. However, there are downside risks to the outlook, with the National Steering Committee for Power Development reportedly recommending that the government scale back the target for coal-fired power to 37 per cent in 2025.


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