Blackout fears lift battery demand

by Hiroko Nakata

Staff Writer

What happens when the power goes out during a sizzling summer without warning?

Expectations of power shortages during peak demand this summer have raised fears of sudden blackouts, causing people and businesses to consider purchasing industrial storage batteries to keep their home and office equipment up and running.

The devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and some thermal power plants has clipped electricity supplies for Tokyo and surrounding areas.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. can supply only 52 million kw at the moment, but the utility has said demand could exceed 55 million kw this summer.

“Before the quake, we barely got queries from individual customers. But since the quake, we’ve received 3,000 queries from corporations and individuals,” said Kei Oda, a spokesman at Eliiy Power Co., a maker of lithium-ion batteries.

Since September, Eliiy Power has been letting corporate customers lease the Power Yiile, a large-capacity battery that can store electricity by day from solar panels or by night via household power outlets.

The company decided to start selling the product, which provides 2 kw per hour, to households starting this fall for ¥1.5 million to ¥1.9 million.

The inquiries include one from the owner of a tropical fish shop who has to keep pumping oxygen into their tanks, and from a pastry maker who doesn’t want delicate ingredients to spoil in case a blackout cuts power to the refrigerators, Oda said.

Although power generators can also provide electricity, many types requires heavy oil or natural gas to operate. Many cannot even be used indoors because they emit exhaust gases, including carbon monoxide, he said.

Makers of other types of storage batteries are also seeing strong demand.

Consumer electronics retailer Yamada Denki Co. started to sell on April 15 another industrial-strength lithium-ion battery produced by Edison Power.

Yamada Denki, which has mainly focused on equipment related to smart-grid power systems, including rechargeable batteries, said it has received a number of queries from people who want to ensure they can use their computers and from hospitals that need emergency power in the event of a blackout.

For corporate users, Sony Corp. started selling on April 22 a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that makes use of olivine-type phosphoric iron, which extends power life.

Sony originally aimed to sell the 1.2 kwh battery to makers of computer servers, construction materials and solar panels. It is aiming to sell 30,000 units.

The electronics giant plans to sell similar units for households, but does not have any specific timetable, said spokesman Jin Tomihari.

“Storage batteries are useful to reduce risks when a blackout happens suddenly,” Hideaki Matsui, senior researcher at Japan Research Institute.