Bracing up for power savings

The government has announced a power-saving plan for the coming summer. But the announcement came too late. As all of Japan’s nuclear power plants are offline, the government has been obsessed with the idea of restarting the Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture and has been slow to explain and make people and businesses aware of the need for making serious power-saving efforts again this year.

There is the possibility that people and businesses do not have a strong enough awareness of the need, compared with last summer.

A serious power shortage is expected in the areas serviced by Kepco. This is a result of a policy characterized by excessive reliance on nuclear power.

Each year, the consumption of electricity is always lowest in May. But if a hot summer arrives after the rainy season, power consumption will shoot up due to increased use of air conditioners.

The government envisages the Hokuriku, Chubu, Chugoku and Shikoku electric power companies creating surplus electricity through consumer’s voluntary power-saving efforts and giving that surplus to Kepco.

Even if this is successfully carried out, households and companies in the Kepco-serviced areas will be asked to cut electricity usage by 15 percent — the same as the goal for the areas serviced by Tokyo Electric Power Co. last summer. If Kepco does not receive the expected power surplus from other utilities, a 20 percent reduction in power usage will be called for.

In other areas, voluntary power-saving efforts will also be called for. The Kansai, Kyushu, Hokkaido and Shikoku electric power companies are preparing for the possibility that they may have to implement rolling power outages in case such efforts do not work.

The government, power companies and businesses all hope to avoid setting mandatory electricity-saving targets aimed at entities that use large amounts of power.

The experience of last summer is telling. In Tepco-serviced areas, where such targets were introduced, big users cut power usage by 27 percent, above the goal of 15 percent. In Kepco-serviced areas, where such targets were not introduced, big users cut power use by only 9 percent, lower than the goal of 10 percent.

Power shortages will most likely occur from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. during the hottest summer days. Power companies should call on consumers to turn off air conditioners if power supply surplus falls to a certain level. They also should push pricing schemes which will reward consumers who make power saving efforts or raise the price of electricity during peak hours to prohibitive levels to discourage power consumption.