Tokyo and surrounding regions are
served by the now infamous TEPCO. TEPCO managed to provide enough power
during the summer, thanks to savings exercised at businesses of all
sizes, factories, government organizations, train systems, offices,
and residences. With the savings, TEPCO even had spare power for its
northern neighbor, the Tohoku Electric Power Co., which nearly went into blackout nine times this summer. Remember that
the Tohoku region is the one that suffered from the major quake and
tsunami in March. The power infrastructure included, the region has
not recovered at all. After the summer, power demands dropped low
enough to secure enough supply, but winter is rapidly approaching
and, with it, heavy power use for heating.
I read a blog post (in Japanese) by
Naoki Inose, lieutenant governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan
Government, regarding the necessity of another
electric power company to reinforce TEPCO.
TEPCO estimates its power supply in
December will be roughly 55 million kW, or 55,000 MW, with power
demand at 51.5 million kW, or 51,500 MW. However, back in 2007, the
demand in winter exceeded 55,000 MW, and it is not a safe bet. On top
of that, the Tohoku power territory needs help from TEPCO. As I
Japan's power grid is split into two parts. (The US power grid is
split into three parts.) The eastern part of Japan (Tohoku and TEPCO)
has 50-cycle AC power, while the western part has 60-cycle AC power.
Although there are a few power conversion stations, they don’t have
the capacity to send extra power from the west to the east. And the
west is also expecting a power shortage because their nuclear power
plants will be halted. So TEPCO is the only one that can save the
Tohoku power company. TEPCO also feels they need to help it.
The Tokyo metropolitan and local
governments of the surrounding eight regions are contemplating a
second TEPCO to secure enough power for their areas, according to
Inose. An irony is that the world-famous Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear
power plant is owned and operated by TEPCO to generate power for its
own territory, but geographically it is in the Tohoku power company’s
territory. People in the Tohoku power company territory are still
suffering from the accident at a nuclear power plant that does not
generate power for their use. This is like PG&E having a nuclear
power plant in Washington or Arizona, and an accident happened there.
TEPCO is losing its generation
capacity, as some of its nuclear reactors (2,500 MW) will be halted
by spring for checkups. Since TEPCO lost the Fukushima nuclear
reactors, it will probably lose up to 8,000 MW altogether. The Tohoku
power company is expected to lack around 700 MW. Under these
conditions, TEPCO will not be able to support Tohoku.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is
constructing a natural gas thermal power plant (1,000 MW), but it
will not be enough. Those nine local governments got together and
discussed how to cope with the lack of power. Renewable energies are
desirable, but they cannot generate enough renewable energies at this
time. The best choice at this point is natural gas. There are several
problems that must be resolved at the national level. For example, in
the current system, private power generators will be charged for the
use of transmission lines (owned by TEPCO) in selling power to TEPCO.
Also, if gas thermal plants are the inevitable choice, how will the
national government secure enough natural gas for generation and
stabilize its price?
Also, TEPCO, out of desperation,
restarted old thermal power plants, which are 35 to 40 years old and
very inefficient, to secure enough power. They generate up to 15,000
MW but may break anytime. Also, they tend to emit more harmful
substances into the air than do modern facilities. TEPCO is required
to pay an astronomical amount of money to compensate for the nuclear
accident and does not have a fund to upgrade the old thermal plants.
Someone has to pay for more power plants.
Some of the nine local governments
complained about the lack of support from the national government.
Inose concluded that the national government probably could not help
the situation and that they needed to take the matter into their own
hands. They are now talking about creating a fund to construct and
renew power plants. Inose also talked about a smaller but easily
controllable generation facility, like one at a hotel or a business
It has been eight months since the
quake, but recovery is slow in coming, if at all. Budgetary talks to
help the stricken areas are not progressing rapidly. The Japanese
people once were very proud of their highly reliable infrastructure,
including the power grid. The utility companies told me that their
infrastructure was superb and they did not need smart grid. Former
Prime Minister Hatoyama promised the world that Japan would cut CO2
emissions by 25%. But with more natural gas–based thermal plants,
how will Japan keep its promise? People who supported Hatoyama’s
plan now do not say much. When confronted with reality, people need
to make a tough choice between controlling GHG emissions and
sustaining society and businesses. What about the US? Are we ready to
make a tough choice?