Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
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The Japanese government and big
utilities were pushing to restart nuclear reactors for fear of power
shortages in the summer months. Specifically in the Kansai area
(Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara, served by KEPCO),
previous power generation by nuclear power was close to 50%.
Therefore, before summer, a severe power shortage was feared. Several
local governors and mayors, especially the Osaka mayor, opposed
restarting the nuclear reactors, because safety had not been
verified. But at the last moment, they withdrew their opposition
because there was no assurance that enough power for the summer could
In the US, Labor Day signifies the end
of summer, but in Japan it is still very hot, well over 90 degrees
during the day. However, no power shortage has materialized.
According to the Ministry
of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), power use during
July was the lowest since January 2005, as a result of lower
temperatures and power saving. An average household in Japan used
about 342 kWh in July, 7.3% less than in July 2011. There are many
factors to consider, such as temperature and humidity, to get that
number. One thing I can say about summer in Japan is that it is hot
and sticky and I avoid going there then. The US Energy Information
Administration (EIA) has a good
link to how much power an average US household
consumes monthly. Consumption varies among states. In 2010, the least
consumption was in Maine (521 kWh) and the most was in Alabama (1,384
Granted that houses are much smaller in
Japan, 342 kWh is very little. Believe me that during a typical
summer night, the temperature does not drop below the high 70s and
the humidity is unbearable. You cannot sleep without AC. So I think
this indicates very aggressive power saving by average citizens.
In the Kansai area, two restarted
nuclear reactors produce a total of 2,360 MW. During the month of
August, they had a 3,470 MW cushion between demand and supply. In
early July when reactors had not been restarted, the closest between
demand and supply was 2,120 MW. The rest of the utilities territories
(9 out of 10) reported the following summertime (the entire summer)
power usage decline, compared with the summer of 2010.
Source: TBS TV
Many people in the Kansai region, as
well as others, think the restarting of the nuclear reactors was not
necessary. There was not a single day when demand was so close to
supply to necessitate rolling blackouts. Almost 50% of power
generation capacity was lost, yet there was not a single blackout
during the months when the highest power consumption was expected.
This energized the anti-nuke movement.
In spite of that, the government and
utilities companies are planning to restart the remaining 48 nuclear
reactors. The sad reality is that they lack a convincing argument to
show that the nuclear reactors are safe, because some are suspected
to be on fault lines. The government surveyed public opinion about
what the energy mix in the year 2030 should be. It asked people to
select which percentage nuclear power should take, 0%, 15%, or
20–25%. The overwhelming majority selected the 0% option, and the
government is now leaning that way. But they have not yet shown how
it can be accomplished or which energy sources can take over from
This is still a fire on the other side
of the ocean for the US, but we should consider our energy mix while
we still have time. It is very hard to do so when you do not have
time, like Japan.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Thursday, May 31, 2012
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A controversy continues regarding the
future energy mix in Japan. It was Tokyo that was hard hit by a power
shortage last summer. It is Osaka's turn to expect a power shortage
in the coming summer. TEPCO, which serves the Tokyo area, lost four
nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the big quake and immediately
initiated rolling blackouts. However, TEPCO pulled through last
summer by imposing strict power usage controls. It also threw in as
many thermal plants as possible, whether they were online or offline
(due to their age), to compensate for the lack of the nuclear
KEPCO, which serves the Osaka area, did
not prepare another source of power as TEPCO did, and has been
warning that the Osaka area will suffer from a power shortage this
summer. There are several players in this game:
Governor and assembly where the
nuclear reactors reside
Local government that hosts the
nuclear power plants
Governors and assemblies of
Public at large
It was clear from the beginning that
the central government and KEPCO would like to restart the nuclear
reactors. Recently, the local government (both the village master and
the assembly) indicated that they approved the restart. The biggest
opposition to the restart was a group of governors of the surrounding
prefectures (a prefecture is similar to a state in the US).
KEPCO and the governors of the
surrounding area have been in discussions for some time. As summer
comes closer, the deadline for restarting the two reactors is within
days. It takes three weeks to restart one reactor. Because two
reactors share some structure, they cannot be restarted at the same
time. So it will take six weeks to get full power. If the restart
takes place next week, it would be around July 15 when full power is
restored. Setting the deadline seems to have worked: the governors
have compromised, although they still insist the restart is temporary
and only for the summer.
With the compromise, Prime Minister
Noda indicated that he would call the shot as early as next week.
This writer is puzzled. In spite of these discussions and heated
debates, there was no involvement from the technical experts on the
security of the reactors. PM Noda said he would take all the
responsibility for the restart, but he is not an expert. How can he
take responsibility in case of a disaster? If the restart was used to
revitalize the nuclear business, what was the significance of the
Fukushima disaster? The four reactors in the Fukushima nuclear power
plants still need time and care to get them fully decommissioned for
the next 50 years or so.
Personally, I think the restart is
necessary to cope with the power shortage. But the process of
restarting and the discussion of it seem flawed. It seems like more
reactors will be restarted before long.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
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Smart grid has been proposed to provide
more stable power and reduce transmission loss, from generation all
the way to consumers. The imbalance between the ever-increasing
demand and the lack of resources in transmission lines and generation
as a result of environmental concerns, coupled with high fuel costs,
makes us wonder whether we have and will have enough power for our
needs in the US. We have already seen that some data centers, which
are notorious for consuming a lot of power, could not expand, because
they could not source more power for the expansion. But overall we
have been lucky in the US. We have, more or less, enough power for
our everyday lives.
What would happen to the US if 30%–50%
of generation sources disappear? It is hard to imagine. We will see
something like that in the industrialized country of Japan this
summer. I have repeatedly written about it. On May 5, the last
operating nuclear reactor was stopped for an annual checkup without a
firm restart date. This was celebrated as a victory by some groups of
people who are against nuclear power. But other people are worried.
Now all 50 nuclear reactors in Japan
are halted without any firm restart dates. Each reactor was stopped
for a routine checkup but never restarted. About 30% of Japan’s
entire power generation came from nuclear plants, so the country is
now running its power grid with a 70% power supply capacity. This
still works now, in spring, when demand is relatively low. But come
summer, with the increased use of air conditioners, power demand may
surpass power supply. The Tokyo area, which is served by TEPCO
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/index-e.html, went through a power shortage
last summer with intensive conservation, and TEPCO managed power
demand without rolling blackouts. With four reactors decommissioned
in Fukushima and seven reactors (a total of 8,212 MW of generation
capacity) halted in another plant, TEPCO will have to do some
maneuvering to get through this summer without any blackouts. TEPCO
has announced it would implement time-of-use pricing to curtail power
usage during peak hours. (Note that PG&E indicated time-of-use
service will start in 2014.) So far, TEPCO has installed about 1
million smart meters, but the total number of households is 28
million. Does this work? Twenty-seven million meters cannot
distinguish time-of-day pricing, and their owners have no incentive
to conserve. Moreover, I am sure TEPCO charges extra for the meters
and their installation and adds the cost on top of the power price
for every consumer to share. Some people think they receive free
meters and free installation and are very happy without knowing the
utility’s pricing structure.
This is bad enough, but the KEPCO
territory—Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe—will suffer from an even
worse power shortage because of their heavy dependence on nuclear
power (some 50%). Currently, the central government and KEPCO are
playing tug-of-war with local governments. They want to restart two
of the reactors, while the local governments question the safety of
those reactors because neither the central government nor KEPCO has
provided reliable information about their safety or actual power
capacity. The central government and KEPCO have been using scare
tactics, saying that not reactivating the reactors means rolling
blackouts. Their most recent figures on power capacity are as
2 nuclear reactors
Total of additional capacity
- 4,450 MW
+ 10 MW
Without nuclear power or additional
pump-up generation, KEPCO projects a power shortage of 4,450MW
in the coming summer. With the reactivated nuclear reactors (an
additional 2,360 MW) and pump-up generation (2,100 MW), it can
guarantee a reliable supply of power.
People are skeptical about these
Additional power and expected
shortage almost (conveniently) balance, with a positive 10 MW.
KEPCO stated that power produced
by pump-up generation was much less before.
Of course, I have no intimate knowledge
regarding these figures, but I have a suspicion like everyone else
that the numbers are cooked to justify restarting the nuclear
I wonder what would be the reaction of
an American if the same thing happened in the US? I am not sure
Americans would be as receptive as the Japanese to this explanation.
In any event, it looks like it is going to be a very hot summer in
Time of use
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
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A few days ago, the four reactors that
were badly damaged at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant were
officially decommissioned. That makes the official nuclear reactor
count in Japan 50, down from 54. Out of those 50 reactors, only one
is currently in operation. A big, ongoing controversy is the issue of
restarting some of the reactors that were halted after a checkup.
The Japanese government is now clearly
pushing for restarting nuclear reactors to secure enough power for
the country. The very two reactors in question now are in the KEPCO
territory, which includes the big cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and
Nara. The government performed stress tests on those reactors and
abruptly concluded them safe. They did it by creating a safety
checklist for the nuclear reactors in a few days. Then they held a
meeting to conclude that the reactors were safe because they
satisfied all the items in the list.
This did not convince the local people.
It appeared that the government had already decided to restart the
reactors no matter what and held a meeting to make it official. The
surrounding communities and local governors are very much against
this decision, and the government has yet to move this matter to the
next stage. The Fukui prefecture (similar to a state in the US) is a
small and not very populous one, and its industries and employment
opportunities are limited. With the nuclear industry in their
prefecture, they received a large sum of money in grants from the
government, and employment opportunities opened up. They need workers
at the reactors, and the surrounding restaurants and inns benefit
from the people pouring into their community. The local people are in
a dilemma. They are worried and afraid of potential disasters. But
with the reactors halted, the local economy is also halted, and they
cannot sustain their lives as before.
The Asahi Shimbun, one of the leading
newspapers, published a nationwide survey of the government decision
to restart the reactors. Only 28% supported the restart, while 55%
opposed it. As for whether people believed the government’s
assurance of safety, only 17% trust the government assurance, while
70% do not. Also, only 18% believe the government's power-shortage
data, while 66% do not. As for whose consent is necessary for the
restart, 88% answered that the local community needs to approve it,
while 8% said the government could decide by itself. Finally, people
who were surveyed felt that the government was not moving away from
using nuclear reactors (61% vs. 19%).
The strong argument from the government
is that, without nuclear energy, Japan will not have enough power.
But the majority of people do not believe that. It appears this
standoff will continue into summer, which requires the most power
during the year. With the current administration's approval rate at
25% and still sinking, a general election may take place sometime
soon. The discussion about energy policy and power supply may be
delayed substantially. It is too late to take action when power
cannot be supplied adequately when needed.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Monday, April 09, 2012
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As of April
9, there was only one nuclear reactor in operation in Japan.
The last one will be shut down for a checkup on May 5. As summer is
coming in three months, the Japanese government seems to be adamant
about restarting two of the halted nuclear reactors in the Kansai
region, which is KEPCO territory and includes Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara.
The problem is that it is really
difficult see what is going on and how the decision about the nuclear
policy is being worked out there. Unlike the previous administration,
the current administration is determined to restart some of the
halted nuclear plants. It is easy to blame Japan for restarting them
after such a big accident. But Japan does not seem to have any other
choice, unlike the US. The US has several options for energy. In the
worst case, it can suspend its policy of protecting the environment
and drill for oil and coal. Natural gas is plentiful and priced very
low compared with the world market. For example, natural gas costs
more than four times as much in Japan as in the US.
Japan imports virtually all of its
energy. Japan decided to adopt nuclear power because it:
Is relatively cost-effective
compared with other fuels.
Has no GHG emissions.
So it is understandable that Japan
would restart some of the halted reactors to get ready for summer,
especially in KEPCO territory, which has depended on nuclear energy
to meet 44% of its total power demand. However, the process and
transparency of how the restart is planned and carried out are
awfully flawed. Most Japanese people are very skeptical about
government announcements after having watched how the nuclear
disaster was handled. Most people believe that the government
withholds much information about the disaster and its aftermath. Many
people are afraid and worried about nuclear reactors. The government
does not seem to be able to wipe out their mistrust and suspicions.
On top of that, it does not seem to have a clear plan or the will to
carry out an energy policy.
Bypassing the regaining of trust and
not showing the safety of the nuclear reactors makes it appear that
the government plans to restart the plants without providing adequate
safety measures and processes. Some time ago, a stress test was a
condition for restarting the reactors, but it was not really
described to the public. The first phase of the test was a computer
simulation, and the second phase was to prepare for all possible
problems. Then a few days ago 13 interim safety measures for reactors
were announced and, thus, the conditions for restarting them. On
April 9, the government
issued three major conditions for the restart:
Mechanisms to guarantee power
supply in case all the internal and external domestic imported power
Readiness for earthquakes and
Several safety measures, including
satisfying the stress test.
The conditions keep changing and are
In addition, some key members of the
cabinet seem to have some reservations about restarting the reactors,
even if these conditions are met. Also, the central government cannot
move quickly because local governments and people are concerned about
restarting the reactors without clear evidence of their safety. The
way things are going, Japan will suffer from another power crunch
The best thing the government can do is
to release all the information, including power needs and
availability of other power sources, and convince people about what
needs to be done. It may take longer, but in the long run it is the
only way. If the central government forces a restart without any good
evidence of the reactors’ safety, the backlash could be enormous.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Sunday, March 25, 2012
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As of March 25 (Japan time), the 53rd
nuclear reactor has been halted for a checkup. That reactor was in
the TEPCO territory. The 54th and last remaining operational reactor
is in Hokkaido, in the Hokkaido Electric Power Co. (HEPCO)
territory, and it is due to be halted on May 5th (Japan time) for a
checkup. So as of early May, no nuclear reactors will be running to
provide power in Japan. The hot summer usually starts in mid-July,
and Japan must go through another summer with an inadequate power
supply. Remember that TEPCO suffered the most last summer because of
the loss of the power generated by the four reactors of the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear plant.
To recap, the reason for stopping the
nuclear reactors is not out of fear that they aren’t safe but
because utilities companies do not want to restart them, even though
they were deemed to be fine after their checkups. The former
administration required a stress test to make sure the existing
nuclear reactors can withstand more severe earthquakes and tsunamis
before they can be restarted. The details of the stress test have not
been publicly available, but bits and pieces of information from the
media reveal the following.
The first level of the stress test is
to simulate even more severe earthquakes and tsunami, to see whether
the current infrastructure holds. That is the first level. It is only
simulation. The second level is to enumerate all the possible ways
for the nuclear reactors to get into trouble and provide remedies for
These conditions are rather silly
The halted nuclear reactors are
not safer than the running reactors, because reactor cores require
constant cooling. Until this problem of supplying power for cooling
when there are major quakes or tsunamis is solved, nuclear reactors
will not be safe.
It was OK not to test operational
reactors, while the halted reactors were tested. In spite of #1,
operational reactors are possibly more dangerous than halted
The first level of the stress test
does not test physically to see whether the outer containment can
really withstand severe quakes. Therefore, passing the test does not
guarantee any real physical integrity. If we take the condition for
the second level literally, we can’t restart any reactors.
Instead, we need some kind of rating system to decide whether each
nuclear reactor can be restarted.
Right now, KEPCO, which serves Osaka,
Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe, is trying to restart two out of eleven
reactors as early as April. Up to now, the central government and
local governments that host nuclear plants were ducking the issue of
nuclear power plants for fear of a public outcry. The current
administration seems to have decided to restart nuclear reactors no
matter what. When you look at my three reasons that the conditions
are silly, # 2 does not apply, because every reactor will be halted
soon. But #1 and #3 still hold. KEPCO got a clearance on level one of
the stress test in an open meeting of the Nuclear Safety Commission.
It took only five minutes to certify level one, in spite of questions
and opposition. They are now at level two and likely to pass it some
time soon, so that two reactors can be restarted as early as April.
Under the guidance of Toru Hashimoto,
maverick mayor of Osaka, the City of Osaka will suggest getting rid
of nuclear reactors in an upcoming KEPCO shareholder meeting. The
City of Osaka, along with the Cities of Kyoto and Kobe, holds about
13% of KEPCO's stock. KEPCO reported that the district it serves
would be short of power this summer without nuclear power. What they
want is to restart their nuclear reactors to remedy this. The stock
owned by the Cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe does not constitute a
majority but is big enough. Their demand is that all the nuclear
power plants be abandoned.
I wish they had had a rational
discussion of this. KEPCO should publish detailed information about
its power supply and demand. How much does it lack at the peak times,
as opposed to non–peak times? If peak times are the only problem,
there are a lot of ways to avoid that. Some people wonder whether
last summer’s power shortage in the TEPCO territory was real. Some
people are skeptical that KEPCO really has a power shortage problem
without nuclear power.
If there is a reasonably priced way not
to use nuclear reactors without hurting individuals and businesses,
it should be considered. But one thing remains to be addressed.
Simply halting nuclear reactors does not guarantee safety, because
fuel rods need constant cooling, which requires power.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
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Although spring is around the corner in
Japan, it is still very cold, with snow flurries and 40°F in Tokyo
and Osaka, where I am writing this post. Tokyo survived last summer’s
power shortage. Large businesses, offices, and individuals pitched in
to save power. Tokyo somehow managed its power supply without nuclear
reactors and was confident that it would also survive winter.
What was feared most before the
beginning of winter was a power shortage in the Osaka area, which is
served by Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO). As you recall from
my blog, KEPCO has 14 nuclear reactors and relies on them for 45% of
its power. With all 14 reactors halted, KEPCO's territory, including
Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara, is holding up, with power demands under
90% of supply. Come April, power demands will decrease substantially
as temperature rise.
As for the halted nuclear reactors,
some of them may be restarted. Reactors halted for annual checkups
were not restarted, even after their checkups were positive, because
the public does not trust the government’s assurances of nuclear
safety. My unscientific survey (I talked to everyone I met about
this) shows that most people do not trust the government, especially
what it says about nuclear safety. Two reactors in the KEPCO
territory went through a stress test whose details were not
published, and I do not have any idea what was tested. Because the
details of the test were not published, it is very difficult to trust
the government’s statements. Each reactor, even when it is not
actively running, has a number of fuel rods in it, and those rods
need to be cooled all the time. Even if the reactor is not running,
the loss of cooling could cause another Fukushima Daiichi accident.
The stress test has an inheritant
problem. The only thing you can do is to simulate hazardous
conditions and see if the current design and construction holds. That
does not give me any assurance. The simulation is a simulation.
The current administration is eager to
restart the two reactors. Considering the lack of other options,
restarting some of the reactors is a necessary evil until other means
are laid out. Unlike the US, Japan does import almost all its energy
from outside. Some idealists believe solar power would suffice to
replace nuclear power. The Japanese media reports big on mega–solar
(large-scale) plants, but one thing they do not report is that the
total power generated by such resources is not enough.
This coming summer will try Japan
really hard, especially the KEPCO territory. I think the government
will restart some of the reactors in the KEPCO area. The current
administration does not have the guts to take this matter into their
own hands and assume full responsibility. They want to pass the buck
to local governments, which do not want to take responsibility
either. I speculate that at the last minute the government will
forcefully restart the reactors, causing further mistrust.
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
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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?
Tokyo metropolitan gov
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 06, 2011
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I am here in Japan to visit a few
businesses. There was a big fuss about the power crunch this summer,
mostly in Tokyo and its surrounding areas. By extensive saving from
all walks of life, blackouts were avoided and Tokyo survived the
feared power crunch. Now it is the turn of the Kansai area, which
includes Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto, served by Kansai Electric Power Co.
As winter comes closer, another power
crunch is feared, this time for KEPCO. Unlike in summer, the peak
power consumption periods are during the mornings and evenings
because of heating needs at home rather than at work. Most of the
power will be consumed in the evenings by heating and dinner
preparation. It is almost impossible to force the public to conserve
by a law like the one that forced businesses in the TEPCO territory
to conserve over the summer.
As reported before, KEPCO relies about
50% on nuclear power, which is to be shut down 100% next February.
Nuclear reactors that were halted for a checkup have not been
restarted due to a lot of complexities. The Japanese government
flip-flops on nuclear power policy. The former prime minister, Naoto
Kan, tried to prolong his reign by completely abandoning nuclear
plants. After his ouster, his successor, Yoshihiko Noda, seems to
have reversed that. However, Noda is not exercising his leadership on
this issue. The government is moving behind the scenes to restart the
halted nuclear reactors. Because the government does not inform the
general public of what it is doing, there is only speculation. After
talking to several people, I have concluded the following.
The government went with the stress
test, which imitated the European stress test, and completed the
tests for some of the halted nuclear reactors. The results were
reviewed and approved by the relevant organizations within the
government. Then, the results were passed on to local governments for
their approval. The local governments were reluctant to go ahead with
the restart because the central government is not firm about its
policy for nuclear power. The central government does not seem to
take full responsibility for a restart that might cause another
Fukushima if there is another major earthquake. The local governments
do not want to take responsibility when the central government does
not. So it seems the matter is stuck.
To make the matter worse, it is
speculated that the Lower House will be dissolved and a general
election will be held in spring or summer of next year. Because of
the unpopularity of the current government, the current
administration is likely to lose power. While this is going on, the
power policy discussion and decision will be held up at status quo.
In the meantime, the KEPCO territory continues to lack power. Other
territories will also suffer from a power crunch, if to a lesser
extent. It seems that this winter will be a very cold one for many
people in Japan.
Peak power usage
Posted By Zen Kishimoto,
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
| Comments (0)
When I started
looking into smart grid, I asked an expert in the field whether
vehicle to grid (V2G) made any sense. He told me that it was a bogus
idea from some crazy college professor. The idea of V2G is to use
electricity stored in car batteries to compensate for the shortage of
power in the grid when necessary.
I had a few
questions about this idea.
An EV requires
about the same amount of power as the home itself. Do we have enough
power even to support EVs in the first place?
capacity is very limited. Can we afford to send electricity in the
battery back to the grid?
life depends upon how many cycles it goes through. Won’t using it
to support the grid impose extra cycles and shorten its life?
In Japan, Toyota and
others are getting serious about vehicle to home (V2H). In Japan,
even before the major quake and the resultant power shortage, PV, in
the form of solar panels on rooftops, and EVs were popular. These two
were considered examples of what smart grid was all about. Now that
the power shortage that began in the TEPCO (Tokyo – Yokohama) area
has spread to other service areas—CEPCO (Nagoya) and KEPCO
(Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe-Nara)—how has this perception changed?
Toyota, located in
CEPCO’s service area, has been actively experimenting with V2H with
manufacturers like Panasonic and Hitachi and with a wind power
company to maximize power use at home. PV may be put into the mix for
self-sustaining power generation and consumption. I am still somewhat
skeptical about V2H, much less V2G, because of those three questions
I am not very
familiar with PV’s total generation capacity, but I do not think it
is enough to charge an EV fully. The battery capacity and the number
of cycles must be improved substantially to support V2H. The second
and third problems are concerned with batteries. So I am still
Still, Japan is in a
real power shortage. Its market and people’s mentality are
completely changed since March 11. When real needs arise,
technologies and processes dismissed before may be deemed reasonable
and break into the mainstream. What about the US? I am not sure
whether there is a driver here like the one Japan suffered from.
Regardless of V2G or
V2H, improvement in battery technologies is important for stabilizing
power demand and supply and exploiting variable renewable energy
sources like sun and wind.