An unusually cold winter, perhaps the coldest in the past 10 years, is being forecast for the northern hemisphere. This has prompted Yukan Fuji (Nov 7) to warn that perhaps by February the nation's power utilities might be stretched to their limits. Should one or more power plant fail, blackouts would be a real possibility.
An organization that monitors power distribution has projected that next January, the capital's power supply surplus during periods of peak demand will be as low as 3.2%, and down by another point to 3.1% by February. That's cutting things close, especially considering the surpluses during the same months over the previous three years, which were 6.3% (in 2020), 6.6% (2019) and 4.3% (2018).
Likewise, the average projected February surplus for utilities supplying the Chubu, Hokuriku, Kansai, Chugoku and Kyushu is 3.9%. The three percent level for all of the country's seven regions is considered the most severe for the past decade, this despite efforts by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to boost capacity and secure sufficient stocks of fuel.
While solar power and other renewable forms of energy have increased, a report last May noted that nearly 6 million kilowatts of power from thermal generators have been phased out.
Takeshi Kaneda, a researcher at Universal Energy Research Institute Inc, believes that efforts to cut carbon emissions by shifting to more sources of renewable energy -- partly in response to pressure from foreign organizations -- may be progressing too fast, which may contribute to shortfalls in power supply.
Natural disasters add a wild card to the deck. The M6.6 Iburi earthquake that shook southern Hokkaido in September 2018 resulted in the shutdown of a thermal power generator, resulting in blackouts affecting 2.95 million households. In some districts, a full week was needed for power to be restored.
The most vulnerable during blackouts are hospital patients, particularly those requiring dialysis or newborn infants in incubators. Railway services and tap water will also be paralyzed, and gasoline or light oil will need to be pumped manually, slowing down distribution. Needless to say, distribution of essential goods will be interrupted, and in some areas rolling blackouts will be enforced, with a week or longer required for full recovery.
The government's basic energy plan calls for Japan to more than double its current level of renewable energy sources, so that they will account for 36 to 38% of the total by 2030.
The aforementioned Kaneda points out that as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, numerous countries are facing serious shortfalls in electrical power,
"Oil tankers have been attacked on the high seas in the Middle East, and if passage of ships transporting LNG through the Panama Canal were to be delayed by, say, one week, Japan might find itself facing a crisis," he said, adding, "China's construction of man-made islands in the South China Sea may also interfere with the transport of natural resources to Japan."
"I suppose that as a 'necessary evil,' Japan should retain generation capabilities that utilize coal, petroleum and nuclear power," Kaneda advises.© Japan Today