Electricity sector in Japan

The electric power industry in Japan covers the generation, transmission, distribution, and sale of electric energy in Japan. Japan consumed 995.26 TWh of electricity in 2014. Before the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, about one third of electricity in the country was generated by nuclear power. In the following years, most nuclear power plants have been on hold, being replaced mostly by coal and natural gas. Solar power is a growing source of electricity, and Japan has the third largest solar PV installed capacity with about 50 GW as of 2017.

Japan has the second largest pumped-hydro storage installed capacity in the world after China.

The electrical grid in Japan is isolated, with no international connections, and consists of two wide area synchronous grids which run at different frequencies and are connected by HVDC connections. This considerably limits the amount of electricity that can be transmitted between the north and south of the country.

In 2008, Japan consumed an average of 8507 kWh/person of electricity. That was 115% of the EU15 average of 7409 kWh/person and 95% of the OECD average of 8991 kWh/person.

Electricity per person in Japan (kWh/ hab.)

Use Production Import Imp. % Fossil Nuclear Nuc. % Other RE Bio+waste* Wind Non RE use* RE %
2004 8,459 8,459 0 5,257 2,212 26.1% 844 146 7,469 11.7%
2005 8,633 8,633 0 5,378 2,387 27.6% 715 153 7,765 10.1%
2006 9,042 9,042 0 6,105 2,066 22.8% 716 154 8,171 9.6%
2008 8,507 8,507 0 5,669 2 010 23.6% 682 147 7,679 9.7%
2009 8,169 8,169 0 5,178 2,198 26.9% 637* 128 27* 7,377 9.7%
* Other RE is waterpower, solar and geothermal electricity and wind power until 2008
* Non RE use = use – production of renewable electricity
* RE % = (production of RE / use) * 100% Note: European Union calculates the share of renewable energies in gross electrical consumption.

Liberalization of the electricity market
Since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the subsequent large scale shutdown on the nuclear power industry, Japan’s ten regional electricity operators have been making very large financial losses, larger than US$ 15 billion in both 2012 and 2013.

Since then steps have been made to liberalize the electricity supply market. In April 2016 domestic and small business mains voltage customers became able to select from over 250 supplier companies competitively selling electricity, though many of these only sell locally mainly in large cities. Also wholesale electricity trading on the Japan Electric Power Exchange (JEPX), which previously only traded 1.5% of power generation, was encouraged. By June 2016 more than 1 million consumers had changed supplier. However total costs of liberalization to that point were around ¥80 billion, so it is unclear if consumers had benefited financially.

In 2020 transmission and distribution infrastructure access will be made more open, which will help competitive suppliers cut costs.

Electricity transmission in Japan is unusual because the country is divided for historical reasons into two regions each running at a different mains frequency.

Eastern Japan (including Tokyo, Kawasaki, Sapporo, Yokohama, and Sendai) runs at 50 Hz; Western Japan (including Okinawa, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nagoya, Hiroshima) runs at 60 Hz. This originates from the first purchases of generators from AEG for Tokyo in 1895 and from General Electric for Osaka in 1896.

This frequency difference partitions Japan’s national grid, so that power can only be moved between the two parts of the grid using frequency converters, or HVDC transmission lines. The boundary between the two regions contains four back-to-back HVDC substations which convert the frequency; these are Shin Shinano, Sakuma Dam, Minami-Fukumitsu, and the Higashi-Shimizu Frequency Converter. The total transmission capacity between the two grids is 1.2 GW.

The limitations of these links have been a major problem in providing power to the areas of Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Mode of production
Gross production of electricity by source in Japan (TWh)

Year Total Coal Gas Oil Nuclear Hydro Solar Wind Geothermal
2004 1,121 294 26.2% 256 22.9% 169 15.0% 282 25.2% 103 9.2%
2008 1,108 300 27.1% 292 26.3% 154 13.9% 258 23.3% 84 7.5%
2009 1,075 290 27.0% 302 28.1% 98 9.1% 280 26.0% 84 7.8%
2010 1,148 310 27.0% 319 27.8% 100 8.7% 288.23 25.1% 91 7.9% 3.800 0.33% 3.962 0.35% 2.647 0.23%
2011 1,082 291 26.9% 388 35.8% 166 15.4% 101.761 9.4% 92 8.5% 5.160 0.48% 4.559 0.42% 2.676 0.25%
2012 1,064 314 29.5% 409 38.4% 195 18.3% 15.939 1.5% 84 7.9% 6.963 0.65% 4.722 0.44% 2.609 0.24%
2013 1,066 349 32.7% 408 38.2% 160 15.0% 9.303 0.9% 85 8.0% 14.279 1.34% 4.286 0.4% 0.296 0.03%
2014 1,041 349 33.5% 421 40.4% 116 11.2% 0 0% 87 8.4% 24.506 2.35% 5.038 0.48% 2.577 0.25%
2015 1,009 342 34.0% 396 39.2% 91 9.0% 9.437 0.9% 85 8.4% 35.858 3.55% 5.16 0.51% 2.582 0.26%

According to the International Energy Agency the Japan gross production of electricity was 1,041 TWh in 2009, making it the world’s third largest producer of electricity with 5.2% of the world’s electricity. After Fukushima, Japan imported and additional 10 million short tons of coal and liquefied natural gas imports rose 24% between 2010 and 2012 mostly consumed in the power sector | 64% .

Nuclear power
Nuclear energy was a national strategic priority in Japan, but there has been concern about the ability of Japan’s nuclear plants to withstand seismic activity.

Following an earthquake, tsunami and the failure of cooling systems at the Fukushima I nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, a nuclear emergency was declared. This was the first time a nuclear emergency had been declared in Japan, and 140,000 residents within 20 km of the plant were evacuated. The total amount of radioactive material released during the incident is unclear, as the crisis is ongoing.

On 6 May 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant be shut down as an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or higher was likely to hit the area within the next 30 years. Kan wanted to avoid a possible repeat of the Fukushima disaster, and, on 9 May 2011, Chubu Electric decided to comply with the government’s request. Kan later called for a new energy policy with less reliance on nuclear power.

By October 2011, only 11 nuclear power plants were operating in Japan. There were electricity shortages following the power off of most nuclear plants, but Japan passed the summer of 2011 without the extensive blackouts that had been predicted previously. All 50 nuclear plants were put on hold by early 2012, and the Japanese government warned that voluntary power-saving may not be enough to prevent a massive electricity shortage the next summer. An energy white paper, approved by the Japanese Cabinet in October 2011, says “public confidence in safety of nuclear power was greatly damaged” by the Fukushima disaster, and it calls for a reduction in the nation’s reliance on nuclear power.

Of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors all will go offline on 15 September 2013, leaving Japan without atomic energy for only the second time in almost 50 years. In mid 2011 energy conservation policies were applied leading to a 12% reduction in electrical use. Carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity industry rose in 2012, reaching levels 39% more than when the reactors were in operation.

Hydro power
Hydroelectricity is Japan’s main renewable energy source, with an installed capacity of about 27 GW, or 16% of the total generation capacity, of which about half is pumped-storage. The production was 73 TWh in 2010. As of September 2011, Japan had 1,198 small hydropower plants with a total capacity of 3,225 MW. The smaller plants accounted for 6.6 percent of Japan’s total hydropower capacity. The remaining capacity was filled by large and medium hydropower stations, typically sited at large dams.

Other renewables
The Japanese government announced in May 2011 a goal of producing 20% of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources, including solar, wind, and biomass, by the early 2020s.

Citing the Fukushima nuclear disaster, environmental activists at a United Nations conference urged bolder steps to tap renewable energy so the world doesn’t have to choose between the dangers of nuclear power and the ravages of climate change.

Benjamin K. Sovacool has said that, with the benefit of hindsight, the Fukushima disaster was entirely avoidable in that Japan could have chosen to exploit the country’s extensive renewable energy base. Japan has a total of “324 GW of achievable potential in the form of onshore and offshore wind turbines | 222 GW| , geothermal power plants | 70 GW| , additional hydroelectric capacity | 26.5 GW| , solar energy | 4.8 GW| and agricultural residue | 1.1 GW| .”

One result of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster could be renewed public support for the commercialization of renewable energy technologies. In August 2011, the Japanese Government passed a bill to subsidize electricity from renewable energy sources. The legislation will become effective on 1 July 2012, and require utilities to buy electricity generated by renewable sources including solar power, wind power and geothermal energy at above-market rates.

As of September 2011, Japan plans to build a pilot floating wind farm, with six 2-megawatt turbines, off the Fukushima coast. After the evaluation phase is complete in 2016, “Japan plans to build as many as 80 floating wind turbines off Fukushima by 2020.”

Other renewable energies

Biomass is the 3 e  Generating renewable energy in Japan, after hydro and wind power; it provided 34.6  TWh in 2015; this production grew on average by 166% from 1990 to 2010, and then by 36% from 2010 to 2015; Japan is the 5 th  worldwide with 8% of the world total (the n o  1, the United States produced 61.6  TWh ) 3  ; in the broad sense (including waste), biomass is dominated by its solid component (wood): 34.6  TWh  ; the remaining 6.9  TWh are produced from municipal waste: 4.3  TWh and industrial waste: 2.6 TWh  .

The Ministry of Ecology plans to increase the contribution of biomass from 4.6  Mtoe in 2005 to 8.6  Mtoe in 2020, 9  Mtoe in 2030 and 10  Mtoe in 2050; the massive use of wood pellets is the main means of achieving this: 13.2  Mt of these pellets are expected to be consumed in 2020 and 16.4  Mtin 2050 ; In 2012, the government set up an EnR fare system, which is also valid for co-fired power plants, replacing the “RPS” system that forced utilities to use renewable energy. Sumitomo Forestry announced in May 2013 its intention to build in 2016 the largest power plant biomass Japan (50  MW ) which will supply the city of Hokkaido , and oil refiner Showa Shell announced in late 2015 a biomass plant of 49  MW at south of Tokyo .

The biomass sector relies for the most part on the recovery of wood industry residues, which is highly developed in this country, which is almost 70% covered by forests, 40% of which is exploited industrially. in February 2011 was commissioning the central Kawasaki, in the region of Kanto , the largest 100% biomass power plant in the country: 33  MWe , which consumes 180,000 wood chips per year.

Cities generate large quantities of valuable waste in the 1900 incineration centers, 190 of which produce electricity, with 1500  MW of electrical power; on the other hand, Japan does not have available acreage for crops for biofuel production; Japan has 61 biomass-fueled power plants (excluding urban waste), 10 biogas plants and 14 bi-fuel coal-biomass plants. The Japan Forestry Agency plans to use the debris left by the tsunami in the Tohoku area  ; it has asked for 300 million yen ($ 3.7 million) to subsidize the purchase of grinding machines by local communities.


Japan, located in one of the most active volcanic areas in the world, produces electricity from geothermal energy  ; in 2009, 18 Japanese geothermal power plants produced only 0.2% of the country’s electricity. In 2012, this share has not changed; the potential is still untapped, but the main obstacle is the existence of protected national parks that concentrate more than 60% from geothermal sources in the country.

Japan ranks in 2015 to 9 th  in the world for geothermal electricity with 2.58  TWh (3.2% of world total), far behind the n o  1: the United States (18.73  TWh ) .

The first experiments in geothermal electricity production in Japan date back to 1923, but production did not really start until after the Second World War; the total power of geothermal power plants was 9.5  MW in 1966, 133  MW in 1989 (six plants), and 535  MW in 2011; Seven of the country’s 18 geothermal power plants were located in the Aso-Kuju area of the southern Kyushu island , with a capacity of 140  MW , the rest in the Tōhoku area(north of Honshū ), mainly in Prefectures of Akita and Iwate, as well as in the southern island of Kyushu , in the prefectures of Oita and Kagoshima . A study by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in 2008 estimated that Japan ranks 3 e  world for geothermal resources, behind Indonesia and the United States. The potential is estimated at 23.5  GW , the equivalent of about twenty nuclear reactors.

Japan is at the end of 2016 3 th  largest in Asia, behind China (168,690  MW ) and India (28,700  MW ), and 19 th  in the world for its wind installed capacity to 3234  MW , 0 , 7% of the world total, while the Japanese population represents 1.7% of the world total. This power increased by 196  MW (+ 6.5%) in 2016.

In 2015, Japan’s wind power generation was 5.16  TWh , or 0.5% of total electricity production.

In 2012, Japan’s wind turbines produced only 4.3  TWh , or 0.4% of the country’s electricity; this production fell by 5.6% in 2012 due to poor wind conditions, but has increased by 26.3% per year since 2002; despite the introduction of a new attractive purchase price, the expected takeoff is lagging due to difficulties in connecting new installations to the network; in addition, the Ecology Ministry’s decision to establish an estimation of environmental impact program (EIA) of wind power, to better regulate the sector, complicates the situation.

Japan had 1,807 turbines in September 2011, with a total installed capacity of 2,440  MW . The lack of favorable sites (regular wind, proximity to the electricity grid, out of urbanized or protected areas) and the preference of electric operators for fossil fuel or nuclear power plants hamper the development of wind power in Japan.

Grid storage
Japan relies mostly on pumped storage hydroelectricity to balance demand and supply. As of 2014, Japan has the largest pumped storage capacity in the world, with over 27 GW.

Electricity consumption
Electricity consumption per capita is 7,865  kWh in Japan, compared with 7,043  kWh in France, 7,015  kWh in Germany and 12,833  kWh in the United States .

The sectoral breakdown of final electricity consumption has evolved as follows:

Japan’s final electricity consumption by sector ( TWh )
Sector 1990 % 2000 % 2010 % 2014 2015 % 2015 var.
Industry 423.1 54.9 399.9 41.3 336.4 32.9 306.3 305.1 32.1% -28%
Transport 16.4 2.1 18.2 1.9 18.8 1.8 17.8 17.9 1.9% + 10%
Residential 184.1 23.9 257.9 26.6 305.3 29.9 273.9 267.6 28.2% + 45%
Tertiary 145.8 18.9 290.8 30.0 355.0 34.8 340.4 326.7 34.4% +124%
Agriculture 1.8 0.2 1.8 0.2 2.3 0.2 2.8 2.8 0.3% + 58%
Unspecified 0 0.3 0.04 3.8 0.4 20.7 29.0 3.1% ns
Total 771.1 100 968.8 100 1,021.6 100 961.9 949.2 100% + 23%
Source of data: International Energy Agency 

Demand from industrial customers fell by 3.6% in 2011 (damage caused by the Tohoku earthquake ); Residential customer consumption also fell by 5% in 2011, but this decrease is mainly due to a decrease in air conditioner consumption, as the summer of 2011 was much less hot than in 2010.

Transport: electric vehicles
Japanese automakers are at the forefront in the development of hybrid vehicles and electric cars:

Toyota is the pioneer of hybrids, where it is the world’s largest manufacturer ( Prius , launched in 1997, the first mass-market full  hybrid car, and Lexus , and has sold more than five million Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles in the world ), and plug-in hybrids: Prius Plug In, whose commercialization in Europe began in July 2012;
Mitsubishi began production of electric cars very early: Mitsubishi i MiEV , launched in Japan in 2009 and in France in 2010 under the Peugeot: Ion and Citroën brands : C-Zero  ;
Nissan is the world’s number one electric vehicle: the Renault-Nissan Alliance celebrated its 100,000th delivery of electric vehicles in early July 2013; it claims to have invested 4 billion euros in this technology; more than 71,000 foils have been sold to date, making it the world’s best-selling electric model; its main markets are the United States , with approximately 30,000 copies, Japan (28,000) and Europe (12,000); in the United States, the Leaf is among the top ten most sold vehicles in San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu; it is also among the top ten best sellers in Norway;
Honda sells hybrid cars: Honda Insight launched in 2009, Honda Civic , Honda CR-Z launched in 2010, etc. which it announced in 2012 to have sold more than one million copies; Honda has a program of future plug-in hybrid models;
The four major Japanese manufacturers announced on July 29, 2013 an agreement to install additional recharging points for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in Japan: Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi deem “crucial to rapidly develop infrastructures to promote the use of electric vehicles. vehicles using electricity ”  ; Japan currently has only about 1,700 fast charging stations (almost complete recharge in less than 30 minutes) and 3,000 public charging stations (charging times of up to eight hours). The joint statement announced the deployment of 4,000 terminals and fast 8000 additional normal terminals .
the Japanese government hopes that the share of electric and plug-in hybrid models will reach 15 to 20% of new vehicle sales in the archipelago in 2020; in order to support the efforts of the builders, he budgeted a subsidy of 100 billion yen (770 million euros) for the current fiscal year.

Power generation company
In order to operate the power generation business, notification is required to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry pursuant to Article 27-27 of the Electric Utility Industry Law.

According to the “Registered Power Generator List” of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, as of July 15, 2018, based on the provisions of the Supplementary Provisions of the Law for Partial Revision of the Electricity Utilities Industry Act (Act No. 72 of 2013) It is a total of 692 business operators including 17 businesses deemed to have filed the notification form.

Major electric utilities in Japan
In line with the full liberalization of electricity retailing from April 1, 2016, the revised Electric Utility Business Law came into effect on the same day, and the Electric Utility Company entered into force on April 1, 2016 by the retail electricity company, general power transmission / distribution business operator, power transmission operator, It became power distribution business operator and power generation company. The 10 former electric utilities, which will be described later, are retail stores concurrently engaged in the three businesses of retail electricity business, general transmission and distribution business, and power generation business, except TEPCO, which shifted to a holding company structure on April 1, 2016 Electric utility companies, general transmission and distribution companies, power generation companies. TEPCO changed its name to TEPCO Holdings Co., Ltd., a subsidiary company, TEPCO Energy Partner, TEPCO POWER GRID, TEPCO Fuel & Power Co., Ltd., respectively retail electricity business, general transmission and distribution business, fuel and thermal power generation I succeed the business.

Retail Electricity Utility
To operate the retail electricity business, registration by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry is required pursuant to Article 2-2 of the Electric Utility Industry Law.

According to the “Registered Retail Electricity Industry List” of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, as of December 1, 2017, a total of 445 operators.

General transmission and distribution business operator
To operate the general transmission and distribution business, permission from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry is required pursuant to Article 3 of the Electric Utility Industry Law. It is a project corresponding to the power transmission and distribution department of 10 electric power companies that are former general electric utility companies before the revision of the Electric Utility Business Law.

As of April 2016, it is 10 business operators of Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Company, Tokyo Electric Power Power Grid, Chubu Electric Power Company, Hokuriku Electric Power Company, Kansai Electric Power Company, Chugoku Electric Power Company, Shikoku Electric Power Company, Kyushu Electric Power Company and Okinawa Electric Power Company.

Power transmission operator
To operate the power transmission business, permission from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry is required pursuant to Article 27-4 of the Electricity Business Law. The power transmission business is a business (excluding parts corresponding to the general transmission and distribution business) that transfers electric power to general transmission and distribution business operators by electric facilities for power transmission that they maintain and operate themselves.

As of August 2018, it is two companies, Power Development (J-POWER) and Northern Hokkaido Wind Power Transmission Co., Ltd.

Specified transmission and distribution business operator
In order to operate a specific transmission and distribution business, notification is required to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry pursuant to Article 27-13 of the Electric Utility Industry Law. Specific transmission and distribution business is a business that corresponds to the power transmission department of a specified electric utility business before the revision of the Electric Utility Business Law and the transmission and distribution division etc of a specified scale electric power company that is supplying private line.

According to “Registered Specified Transmission and Distribution Business Operator List” of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, as of July 31, 2018, it is the following 20 operators.

JNC Power, Oji Paper, Green Circle, Enet, Forest Power ,, Miyazaki Power Line, Marubeni, Elex, General Association Higashi Matsushima Mirai Organization Organization, East Japan Railway Company, Roppongi Energy Service, Sumitomo Joint Electric Power Company, JFE Steel, OGCTS, Forest Power Co., Ltd., Hidaka Energy Corporation, so-called I grid partnership company, JC Power Supply Co., Ltd., Mitsui Fudosan TG Smart Energy Co., Ltd.

Source from Wikipedia