Western utilities to channel power east

Adding transformers to bridge frequency gap to take two years


The government is in talks with utilities to add equipment to channel more electricity from western Japan to ease shortages in the east, including Tokyo, after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami shut nuclear plants.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has started talks with companies including Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, to add transformers to help overcome differences in operating frequencies between the two regions, said Noriyuki Mita, a director for policy planning in METI’s electricity and gas division.

The ministry wants the conversion capacity to be added within two years, while utilities have said in discussions it may take longer, said another ministry official, who asked not to be named because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.

Who will bear the cost of building the frequency converters is yet to be decided, the official said.

Tepco supplies Japan’s most industrialized and populous region and lost 40 percent of its generation capacity in the disaster that killed at least 10,900 people and triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. Japan’s three existing transformers are capable of converting 1 million kw, or about 12 percent of the shortfall Tepco has forecast this summer.

Discussions with utilities include proposals for increasing the capacity of the existing converters and building new ones, Mita said. Land will need to be bought for new transformers and transmission lines, he said.

Building a 300,000-kw frequency converter may cost as much as ¥20 billion, according to an official at the Electric Power System Council of Japan, the country’s distribution regulator, who asked not to be named as he is involved in the talks with METI and the utilities.

Tepco and Tohoku Electric Power Co. transmit power to the eastern grid at a frequency of 50 hertz, while the rest of Japan uses 60 hertz, according to Federation of Electric Power Companies.

German generators with a frequency of 50 hertz were the first to be used in Japan, introduced in the late 19th century in the eastern part of the country, according to the power federation’s website.

Subsequently, U.S. equipment with a different frequency was installed in other parts of Japan.

Japan’s three frequency converters are located west and northwest of Tokyo and have a combined capacity of 1 million kw, said Satoshi Kurokawa, spokesman at the federation. The transformers are owned by Tepco, Chubu Electric Power Co. and Electric Power Development Co, known as J-Power.

Tepco could supply 38.5 million kw as of last Thursday and plans to boost its capacity to 46.5 million kw by the end of July through buying supply from other utilities and opening idled thermal plants, it said in a statement on its website last week.

The utility expects a shortage of 8.5 million kw this summer as it estimates seasonal demand will peak at about 55 million kw.

Tepco has been battling to prevent a catastrophic release of radiation at the Fukushima No. 1 plant north of Tokyo after it was struck by Japan’s strongest earthquake on record and the ensuing tsunami. Radiation levels that can prove fatal were detected outside reactor buildings Monday for the first time, complicating efforts to contain the country’s worst civilian nuclear crisis.

The utility serves 28.62 million customers in Tokyo and eight surrounding prefectures in the Kanto region, according to its website.

The region, which includes the cities of Chiba, Yokohama, Kawasaki and Omiya, Saitama Prefecture, accounts for 35 percent of Japan’s population and 39 percent of its gross domestic product, according to Cabinet Office figures from 2007, the most recent data available on prefectures and regions.

Help from Thailand

BANGKOK (Kyodo) Thailand’s main electricity producer has agreed to send two electrical generators to help ease Japan’s power shortage, the Thai government said Tuesday.

Energy Minister Wannarat Channukul told a news conference the decision was made after Tokyo Electric Power Co. informed the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand about its urgent need for generators.

“We decided to lend two power generators for five years to ease the electricity shortage in Japan,” he said.

EGAT Gov. Sutat Patmasiriwat told reporters that Thailand has three power generators standing by, but Tepco asked for only two, with a combined capacity of 122 megawatts, for five years. He said Thailand is ready to provide the remaining generator if requested.

According to the governor, allowing for shipping, installation, test runs and synchronization with the local system, the generators are expected to be operational in August.