Japan’s Coal Imports Soar Amid Surging Natural Gas Prices

Japan is set to import the highest quantity of coal in January in just over two years, as utilities scramble to get supplies for power generation amid high spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing intelligence firm Kpler and Japanese customs data. A cold and snowy winter in Japan has raised the electricity demand, and domestic utilities are looking to buy more coal for power generation. Japan is expected to import over 17.3 million tons of coal in January, according to Edwin Toh, a dry bulk manager at Kpler, quoted by Bloomberg. The volume would be Japan’s highest level of coal imports in one month since December 2019 and around 5 percent over the five-year seasonal average, Japanese customs data showed.

Coal prices have also surged in the past weeks due to a month-long export ban top coal exporter Indonesia, as well as the Russia-Ukraine crisis, which has the commodity markets concerned over disruptions of energy exports, including coal, from Russia. Still, coal prices in comparable terms for utilities are lower than prices for spot LNG cargoes in Asia. LNG prices for March delivery rose this week by more than 17 percent to $27.00 per metric million British thermal units (MMBtu), industry sources told Reuters on Friday. The Russia-Ukraine crisis and the cold weather in Japan were the key drivers of the jump in LNG prices to northeast Asia for March.

The record-high natural gas prices over the past months have forced utilities in many countries, including in developed economies such as Japan and in Europe, to seek to replace gas-fired power generation with coal-fired power plants.

The economic rebound from the pandemic took coal power generation to a new record high in 2021, with global coal demand likely hitting another new high in 2022, undermining net-zero efforts, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said last month. The global recovery in 2021 dashed any hopes that coal-fired power generation may have peaked, the IEA said.