Recently, I participated in Agrion's
panel discussion, "Japan's Clean Technologies and Collaboration
as a panelist.
Many views were expressed from
different perspectives—of a journalist with intense familiarity
with Japanese culture, of an investor with Japanese funds, and of a
large Japanese trading company. Most of all, Mike Kanellos did an
excellent job of moderating. It was a pleasure to spend one and a
half hours discussing this matter.
As I prepared for the panel, I went
over my notes and read many more articles in Japanese newspapers.
Whether or not Japan adopts more renewable energies, with 52 out of
54 of its nuclear reactors halted and the remaining two to be shut
down come April, and with current renewable energies far short of the
capacity to compensate for the loss of nuclear power, a power
shortage should be imminent.
Before the disastrous quake last March,
nuclear reactors generated about 30% of the total power produced in
Japan. When you lose 30%, you gotta do something about it. What
Japan did last summer was to:
Power saving went very well. Average
consumers were not ordered to save power by law, but people pitched
in. Large factories shut down on Thursdays and Fridays and operated
on weekends instead. Most businesses started early in the day and
stopped early to save power. Small factories started their day late
at night when power demand is not severe. People were working in
offices in 86°F conditions. Parents with small kids had a hard time
finding a caregiver on weekends because child-care facilities were
usually closed on weekends. Small restaurants around factories were
forced to change business hours because they had very little business
on Thursdays and Fridays. On the weekends, workers at factories could
not find restaurants open for lunch nearby. Although this worked,
people are now fed up with hardship. Don't believe everything you
read in the media. The US and Western media praised Japan for its
calm reactions to the disasters and the hardships that came after.
However, there is always a breaking point for anything. If that point
is passed, people may snap.
Restarting old, dormant thermal and
hydro power plants did not go so well. Far more thermal than hydro
plants were restarted. Those thermal plants were old and very
inefficient and were to be demolished. It was only because of the
emergency that they were brought back into service. But they had been
neglected for some time, and some of them broke when restarted. Even
the plants that did not break have been shaky.
With the two methods mentioned above,
Japan survived the power shortage last summer. This winter is going
relatively OK, except in the Osaka area served by Kansai Electric
Power Co. (KEPCO), which has more than a 45% dependence on nuclear
power. As of now, all 14 of its nuclear plants are shut down. Even
though 45% of its power supply is gone, the Osaka area (including
Kobe, Kyoto, and Nara) appears to be holding out. I exchanged email
with one of my friends in Osaka who works at a subsidiary of KEPCO.
He wrote that because KEPCO wanted to show that they were saving
power, his company set thermostats at 50°F throughout the facility.
He had to work in a heavy jacket and a blanket.
As you know, TEPCO lost four nuclear
reactors in Fukushima and is required to pay compensation to the
people who evacuated from the region. It is clear that TEPCO alone
cannot pay all the claims. The loss of land and houses, though very
costly, might not be too much. But the people who lost their jobs
because radiation is preventing them from going back to their places
of work need money every day and every month. This amount keeps
rising. TEPCO is on the brink of bankruptcy, and there is talk of
TEPCO is proposing to hike its fee for
electricity by 17%. People in the TEPCO region are furious. Even
though everyone is angry, one individual cannot do much about it. The
vice governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan government tried to send a
strong message to TEPCO to request power from Chubu Electric Power
Co. (CEPCO), which serves the Nagoya region, as reported here.
The Tokyo government uses about 11 MW, roughly the power required by
several good-sized data centers. The local utility for the Tokyo
government is TEPCO, and if they import power from CEPCO, they need
Find a way to bypass the TEPCO
distribution infrastructure or get an agreement to use TEPCO's and
Convert power from 60 Hz (CEPCO
territory) to 50 Hz (TEPCO territory). Conversion capacity is
limited to 1,100 MW.
Because it is not possible to lay a
transmission line to connect the CEPCO side and the Tokyo government,
CEPCO needs to connect to the transmission line owned by TEPCO. They
can lay a set of distribution lines from one or more substations to
the Tokyo government facilities. Or they can cut a deal with TEPCO to
use all of their infrastructure and reconcile later.
CEPCO turned down this offer by citing
their need to help their western utilities, especially KEPCO, which
desperately needs power. Both KEPCO and CEPCO use 60 Hz, and they
are adjacent to each other for easy sharing of power. (See the figure
below.) It is speculated that Tokyo's attempt was a bluff to force
TEPCO to reconsider the price hike.
Utility company territories.
The current administration seems to be
coping with the power loss by:
Restarting as many thermal and
hydro plants as possible.
Restarting selected nuclear
The thermal plants use mostly natural
gas, which Japan must import. They seem to have an agreement to
import natural gas from the US. It is an exceptional gesture because
US policy is to use natural gas as a strategic means for energy
security and to embargo any exports of the fuel. This surely will
increase GHG emissions.
Restarting some nuclear plants is much
more controversial. It appears that the central government is running
out of options to compensate for the power shortage. It is likely
that some nuclear reactors will be restarted before summer.
Is the US ready for a power shortage?
Before the disaster, Japanese utilities executives fended off my
questions about the long-range energy policy by saying that Japan's
power infrastructure was solid and there was plenty of power
available. Are we saying the same thing in the US now?