Realizing a Low-Carbon Society through Biomass Power Generation
—Power generation business in Japan by Summit Energy Corp.
Owner of a wood-fired thermal power station
Japan embarked on liberalization of its power retail industry in 2000 and has since made gradual progress. At present, more than 20 power enterprises either generate power independently or purchase power from other companies to operate a retail power (so-called Power Producer and Supplier [PPS]) business.
An associated company of Sumitomo Corporation, Summit Energy Corporation, is engaged in such business. The company is involved in a wide range of projects to realize a low-carbon society, of which a wood-based biomass power generation project has drawn the most attention.
Simply put, wood-based biomass power generation is “thermal power generation by way of burning wood.” Ordinary thermal power generation uses fossil fuels such as coal, whereas wood-based biomass power generation uses construction scrap wood, driftwood from rivers, and thinned and pruned wood as fuel. CO2-free power generation is based on a concept that CO2 generated from burning trees will be offset by absorption of CO2 by trees during their growth phase.
The Summit Energy Group, owner of two wind and three thermal power plants, is engaged in wood-based biomass power generation at Summit Myojo Power Itoigawa Biomass Power Station in Niigata Prefecture. The plant has achieved a more than 80,000-ton reduction in CO2 emissions annually.
Itoigawa Biomass Power Station
Making efforts to develop alternative fuels
It may be easy to imagine that electricity is simply generated by burning wood. However, in reality it is not that easy. It is not so efficient for power plants to use wood as fuel. Wood has a higher water content and less heat quantity than coal, and quality is not uniform. Therefore, a large volume of wood is required in order to secure sufficient thermal power for power generation. The Itoigawa Biomass Power Station mixes about 40% coal with wood for stable power generation.
Summit Energy has actively worked on the development of biomass fuels to replace wood, considering that wood resources in Japan are limited. Presently, the company is importing palm kernel shell (PKS) from Indonesia and Malaysia as an alternative fuel source. This has boosted the ratio of power generated with biomass fuels to more than 70% of the company’s total power production, marking a huge step toward CO2-free power generation.
Palm tree (left) and palm kernel shells (PKSs)
Not all sources can be used as alternative fuels. For example, trees (stalks) of banana have a high water content, whereas coconuts are small in volume and require high collection costs. These characteristics have constituted great obstacles to overcome.
However, it is a major and hugely important challenge for the company to increase the percentage of biomass fuels to achieve CO2-free power generation. Shinichi Kitamura, President of Summit Energy, said, “We are committed to developing new biomass fuels and overcoming technical obstacles to achieve a biomass fuel rate of 100%,” by securing alternative fuels such as PKS and searching for appropriate procurement methods.
Palm kernel shells are unloaded from a ship
Creating a new mechanism to reduce CO2 emissions
Summit Energy not only generates power at company group power plants, but also procures electricity from other companies to supply it to about 900 private and public facilities, such as stores, buildings and factories, throughout Japan. Moreover, environmental values awarded for the electricity generated at Itoigawa Biomass Power Station are sold as Certificates of Green Power.
The Certificate of Green Power is issued to consumers who use the electricity generated with renewable energy sources such as wood-based biomass (green power). The system allows electricity users to make public that they are cooperating in the reduction of CO2 emissions by using green power. This mechanism has the expected merits of improving corporate images and promoting their IR activities. Summit Energy sells Certificates of Green Power to YAMADA-DENKI Co., Ltd., to whom Summit Energy also supplies electricity. YAMADA-DENKI uses the Certificate for its PR activities, and many readers may have heard the phrase, “green power” in the company’s TV commercials. Moreover, Shinko Sugar Mill Co., Ltd, an associated company of Sumitomo Corporation, is trading the environmental values that arise at the sugar mill plant of the company. This is another example of leveraging our integrated corporate strength.
Meanwhile, the Act on Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS Law) obliges electricity retailers to introduce a certain percentage of renewable energy. This system requires that the retailers achieve the specified amount of use of new energy (renewable energy) through purchasing renewable energy credit, if they fail to use a sufficient amount of new energy required by law. Summit Energy sells renewable energy credit generated at Itoigawa Biomass Power Plant to electricity retailers that have failed to achieve the required level, thereby contributing to the achievement of the target amount of renewable energy used in all of Japan.
This is one example of the Summit Energy’s various efforts besides green power generation.
Green Power Certification that is expected to become widely used
Contribution as a member of the Sumitomo Corporation Group
Itoigawa Biomass Power Station places high priority on securing wood-based fuel stably, in addition to developing alternative fuels. Summit Energy envisions contributing to the realization of a low-carbon society through its business operations by addressing these challenges and improving efficiency. “We would like to make a valuable contribution as a member of the Sumitomo Corporation Group by leveraging the integrated corporate strength of Sumitomo Corporation,” said Kitamura.
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