One day after the Japanese government issued its first-ever electricity supply alert on Monday for the Tokyo area under a system implemented after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan scrambled to keep the lights on in Tokyo on Tuesday as frigid weather and power plant outages from last week’s earthquake put the nation’s capital at risk of blackouts. Government officials warned power supply is expected to fall short of demand Tuesday evening, and officials at the infamous TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co.) said there could be partial outages if the supply squeeze continues.
According to Tepco, unplanned disruptions across the Tokyo and Tohoku regions could begin from 8 pm local time and plunge between 2 to 3 million buildings into darkness until around 11 pm. The utility best known for covering up the full severity of the Fukushima disaster, said its pumped hydro facilities will stop operating in the evening when reservoirs are drained, curbing power output.
As a result, Trade Minister Koichi Hagiuda said that households and businesses should reduce power consumption as much as possible, as conservations measures may need to continue through this week.
The Japanese government is not at the moment considering the use of rolling blackouts as the country faces an electricity shortage, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told a news conference on Tuesady. Kihara also said that Japan unlikely to seek power conservation from Wednesday onward due to a decrease in demand.
Tepco echoed Kihara, saying that it currently isn’t planning to implement a series of managed, rolling blackouts that could ease strain on the grid, arguing there’s not enough time to warn customers. Meanwhile, temperatures in central Tokyo were below average on Tuesday, while cloudy weather significantly reduced output from solar panels.
While the stated culprit for the energy shortage and the reason why Japan's power supplies have been stretched thin, is last week’s strong earthquake which struck in the northeast and took several power plants offline, the reality is that Japan has had very limited power reserves for far longer, as utilities retire older oil-powered plants and most nuclear reactors remain shut after Fukushima. And in light of the Russia escalating sanctions, Japan's energy shortages will only going to get worse.
Though unplanned outages would be mostly random, key infrastructure like hospitals have installed backup generators since 2011, meaning they will be able to continue operations for hours after the grid goes dark.
Meanwhile, Japan’s transport ministry and industry ministry have asked JR and other train operators to save energy, TV Asahi reports, with Railway operators said to be cooperating and have halted some ticket machines as well as electronic billboards.
Japan has ordered most of the nation’s regional utilities to send spare power supplies to the Tokyo area, according to a statement from the grid coordinator. Tepco was scheduled to receive nearly a gigawatt of capacity through midnight. The grid coordinator also ordered power sharing for Tohoku Electric Power, which services the area next to Tokyo and is facing a similar power crunch. Tohoku Electric expects to see power reserves drop to as low as 1%, and has also asked its users to conserve power.
In total, Japan’s electricity network coordinator ordered 7 utilities including Chubu Elec. and Kansai Electric to supply Tepco with energy amid a crunch today; as a result the utility will receive up to 1.42m kw to help avoid a shortage, with the following utilities set to provide power:
- Tohoku from 7am to 4pm, up to 817,800kw
- Chubu 7am to 4pm, 300,000kw
- Hokuriku 7am to 4pm up to 300,000kw
- Kansai 7am to 4pm up to 221,000kw
- Chugoku 8am to 12:00pm up to 100,000kw
- Shikoku 8:30am to 10am up to 100,000 kw
A spokesman for JFE Holdings’s steel-making unit said that the company has been asked by Tepco to conserve electricity and increase output from its own power generation facilities in Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures. The company has not been asked to reduce production and will maintain operations and delivery, the spokesperson said. Tepco has also asked Nippon Steel Corp. to boost output at its own power generation facilities, some of which are now operating at full capacity, a spokesperson for the steel producer said.
Japan’s tech giants such as Softbank and Rakuten Group, are reducing power consumption but don’t see an immediate impact on their business. A spokesperson for the Tokyo Stock Exchange said that the bourse isn’t experiencing any issues at the moment from the power crunch, and is well-prepared for any incidents.
While Japan is hopeful that the power shortage will be resolved soon, thermal power plants in Japan that have been halted following last week’s strong earthquake could take as long as a few weeks to a few months to restore, Kyodo reported, citing industry minister Koichi Hagiuda speaking in parliament.