EDITORIAL | Japan must overhaul its energy system now or face blackouts

Japan Racing Association

With growing concern over the tightening electricity supply-demand balance across Japan in the summer of 2022, the government decided to ask businesses and households to save electricity from July to September. The request is the first in seven years.

Considerable delays in restarting nuclear power plants and the rapid dismantling of aging thermal power plants have led to a significant decline in Japan’s electricity supply capacity.

The government aims to reduce the demand for electricity by asking the general public to save electricity and prevent large-scale blackouts from occurring.

In March 2022, the government issued its first warning of a possible power shortage in eastern Japan, with the region on the brink of a full-scale blackout.

In light of this, the government will introduce a new early warning system to alert households and businesses to a supply shortage and encourage them to save electricity.

Some idle thermal power plants will be restarted as part of measures to increase supply capacity, but electricity shortages across Japan in early 2023 are expected to be even more severe than this summer, especially in areas served by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

Bringing power plants back online

Japan can no longer rely solely on energy conservation. To increase the supply capacity, it is urgent to restart the nuclear power plants whose safety has been confirmed.

A reserve ratio (surplus level) of at least 3% is required to ensure a stable supply of electricity. According to the government, if July were to be extremely hot, the reserve rate could drop to 3.1% in the service areas of Tohoku, Tokyo and Chubu. With the exception of Hokkaido and Okinawa, the reserve ratio is expected to remain at 3.8% for the rest of Japan.

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A Tokyo street monitor announces the power shortage and blackout warning in TEPCO’s service area, including all of Tokyo, on the evening of March 22, 2022.

A ministerial meeting on power supply was convened for the first time in five years because of this problem. The result is a decision to ask businesses and households to save energy without quantified targets. Consumers shall make a skillful and reasonable effort to save energy.

The government is also set to call for preparation for rolling blackouts, in which the power supply would be intentionally cut off in different regions at predetermined times.

However, power outages would have a massive impact on daily life, but also on the operations of factories, stores and businesses. Utilities and government should do everything possible to increase supply capacity to avoid having to put in place continuous blackouts.

Endangering Tokyo

TEPCO’s service areas are expected to see the reserve rate fall into negative territory in January and February 2023, with many other regions also falling below 3%.

It is essential that the government recognizes that the electricity supply and demand situation is extremely critical and implements measures, such as accelerating the restart of nuclear power plants by improving the effectiveness of safety inspections . Promoting the purchase of self-produced electricity would also be useful.

Among the factors contributing to the electricity shortage, the effects of electricity deregulation and government decarbonization policies cannot be ignored. By focusing exclusively on the introduction of solar power generation, the government has neglected to ensure a stable supply of electricity, and we are now paying the price.

A review of the institutional structure of the Japanese energy system is urgently needed.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese on this link.)

Author: editorial board, The Sankei Shimbun

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