The purpose of this paper is threefold: (1) to elucidate why the national power company, Electric Power Development Company (J-POWER) began promoting a business model centered on use of large-scale, overseas-coal-fired thermal power stations, turning back the clock on the energy revolution, wherein Japan, preceding the oil crisis, shifted away from coal to imported oil; (2) to explore why J-POWER succeeded in the commercial operation of the Matsushima Thermal Power Station (500 MW×2 Units) in 1981; and (3) to interrogate why J-POWER challenged the research and development of cutting-edge thermal power technologies like flue gas desulfurization, selective catalytic reduction of NOx, and ultra-supercritical steam generation using boiler-turbines.
Nine electric power companies (NEPC) were established by the reorganization of the electric power industry in 1951. NEPC had four key characteristics: private management, vertical integration, nine regional divisions, and monopoly. In 1952, however, J-POWER was founded by a government initiative, The Electric Development Promotion Law, to overcome post-war power shortages and to increase the supply of electricity in Japan following World War II. J-POWER is the only large-scale wholesale power company in Japan that has power stations and a nationwide network of transmission lines that connect each domestic region.
NEPC actively developed large-scale, oil-fired power stations during Japan’s energy revolution. Before the oil crisis, the autonomy of NEPC worked well, as an economic and stable electricity supply had been realized. Despite this, J-POWER made an effort to promote a business model employing the large-scale import of coal for coal-fired thermal power stations, to turn back the clock on the energy revolution. After the oil crisis, J-POWER demonstrated that the Matsushima Thermal Power Station could indeed generate more economical electricity than an oil-fired power station. As such, J-POWER aggressively developed power stations fueled by overseas coal on a large scale to supply to NEPC in tune with the needs of the time.
Several studies about the Japanese power industry were published and mainly focused on NEPC. These studies recognized coal as a natural resource that had taken a beating by other natural energy sources, such as oil and liquefied natural gas. In doing so, however, these studies disregarded J-POWER’s above-mentioned activities and its role in the energy industry.