Utilities to cut it close amid winter demand

Set thermostats low and wear sweaters indoors


Staff Writer

With winter just around the corner and possible electricity shortages looming from a string of nuclear power plant inspections, utilities and the government are urging people to once again conserve power.

Some regions are predicted to face very severe shortages unless area households and businesses make strong efforts to curb electricity consumption.

What’s the general weather forecast for Japan this winter?

The Meteorological Agency’s temperature forecast for December to February shows the Hokkaido and Tohoku regions have a 40 percent chance of having above-normal temperatures for the period, while the Kansai and Chukoku regions on Honshu, as well as Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa, have a 40 percent chance of below-normal temperatures. The Kanto region, Nagoya and the Japan Alps are expected to have normal winter temperatures.

How’s the power supply projection for that period?

With the exceptions of Tohoku Electric, Kansai Electric, and Kyushu Electric, the utilities are expected to have enough power to meet projected demand.

However, all utilities point out that their calculations assume a steady and stable supply of power, and that technical problems or natural disasters could cause plant shutdowns and lead to shortages without efforts to cut back where possible.

Which region is most likely to face severe shortages?

Kansai Electric Power Co. has said January and February could see demand surpass supply by 7 to 12 percent. The region served by Kepco includes Kyoto, Nara, Osaka and Kobe.

In December, Kepco predicts demand will rise from about 25.5 million kw at the beginning of the month to about 25.8 million kw by New Year’s Day.

Kepco’s projected supply in December is only 24.1 million kw.

Demand is then expected to peak at about 26.6 million kw sometime between mid-January and late February, and recede to 24.6 million kw by mid-March.

But Kepco’s projected supply for the first two weeks of January is just 24.9 million kw.

Kepco officials are particularly concerned about December, as there have been times over the past five years when sudden cold snaps have caused demand to surge beyond the power available.

The real crunch comes after mid-January. Between Jan. 15 and Feb. 19, only 24.7 million kw will be available. Between Feb. 19 and March 18, projected supply and demand levels are expected to begin dropping. But during this period, the gap between demand and supply is expected to be 2.16 million kw.

So what is being done to meet the shortfalls in Kansai?

Kepco is calling on customers to reduce power use by at least 10 percent on weekdays between Dec. 19 and March 23. It is also asking them to keep thermostats set low and to turn off unnecessary lights.

Offices and factories meanwhile are being asked to shift some of their operating hours to weekends where possible.

The seven prefectures that make up the Kansai Unity Project are willing to cooperate with Kepco’s request in this period, except from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4, between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily.

What’s the situation at Tohoku Electric?

Tohoku Electric officials expect slight shortages in January but plan to offset any crunches with increased output from thermal plants and by purchases from other suppliers.

What about Kyushu?

Kyushu Electric also expects a slight shortage in January, but only of about 2 percent, assuming there are no demand spikes or problems at plants.

The utility is asking customers to generally conserve power use on weekdays from Dec. 1 to March 30, but to cut it by at least 5 percent during the peak period from Dec. 19 to Feb. 3.

This does not apply to the New Year’s holidays between Dec. 29 and Jan. 4.

So Tokyo Electric Power Co. customers should be OK?

Tepco says it expects power to be stable this winter but warns that unplanned shutdowns or sudden demand spikes could occur during cold snaps.

By the end of December, Tepco says it will have 54.9 million kw available. That figure will drop to 54.6 million kw by the end of January, and 53.7 million kw by the end of February.

Last winter, maximum demand reached 51.5 million kw. An additional 2.2 million kw and 3.4 million kw will be kept in reserve.

If temperatures suddenly drop, how will demand be affected?

The utilities say that wintertime demand is highest between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. and between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. For each 1 degree drop in temperature, an extra 200,000 kw are needed, meaning a sudden drop during the above periods could cause problems with supply in certain parts of the country.

What conservation measures are being promoted?

Utilities differ in their advice.

Tepco is urging customers to turn off heaters and lights in unused spaces, to clean air conditioner/heater units once every two weeks, and to close the curtains so heat doesn’t escape.

Tepco and other utilities also advise switching to fluorescent lights and LED lamps.

In addition, offices and factories are being asked to lower their thermostats, turn off lights and heating units in unused areas, and make sure unused computers go into standby mode.

Kepco has asked corporate customers to switch operating hours (in the case of offices and factories) to include weekends where possible.

Kyushu Electric is asking customers to conserve weekday electricity use from Dec. 1 to March 30 and use at least 5 percent less from Dec. 19 to Feb. 3 except for the New Year’s holidays.

Shikoku Electric is not calling on customers to cut power consumption by a certain percentage but to merely use it more effectively between December and March. However, it’s requesting that thermostats be set to under 20 degrees and that, where possible, businesses consider using renewable energy for industrial production.

Hokkaido Electric officials say that their thermal and hydroelectric plants are ensuring there won’t be any projected shortages. It will actually have the nation’s largest electricity surplus this winter.

To what extent are businesses likely to follow specific recommendations to curb power use this winter?

There were reports that some businesses in central Tokyo and parts of Kansai ignored government and utility requests to conserve power this past summer. But a survey by Teikoku Data Bank in June of 11,000 firms showed that about 72 percent put summer conservation measures into effect, and that 36 percent had targets set at, or above, the 15 percent reduction Tohoku Electric and Tepco sought.

However, 11 percent of the respondents said they had no plans to reduce.

For this winter, major Kansai area firms have indicated they will comply with Kepco’s requests to cut projected power use by at least 10 percent. However, Kepco officials are concerned that smaller, less energy-efficient businesses and individual households may be harder to convince, especially if predictions for a colder-than-normal winter turn out to be accurate.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp