Make Efforts for Stable Electricity Supply through Broad Cooperation

The balance between supply and demand for electric power has been tight nationwide. Electric power companies must do everything they can to avoid a situation in which the electricity supply that supports people’s lives and livelihoods is interrupted.

Severe cold has continued since the end of last year, and snow has fallen heavily on the Sea of Japan coast and elsewhere. With the increase in the use of heating equipment, electricity demand around the country is about 10% higher as the year begins than it was in the same period last year, when the winter was warmer.

At Kansai Electric Power Co., there was a day when the utilization rate — the ratio of demand to supply capacity — reached 99% for a time. In addition to receiving electricity from other electric power companies, KEPCO reportedly managed to overcome the situation through such measures as deploying mobile high-voltage generators, which are used in times of disasters.

The Kyushu and Shikoku regions also saw their utilization rates rise to 98% for a time. When electricity demand exceeds supply, the frequency will be disrupted, which could lead to a large-scale power failure. A marginal supply capability of at least 3% is said to be required.

If another severe cold wave hits, there are concerns that power shortages could happen again in various parts of the country. It is urgently necessary to reexamine measures to avert such a problem.

The power industry should take all possible measures to ensure a stable supply of electricity by expanding procurement from non-power companies that have power generation facilities at their plants, while swiftly implementing electric power exchanges among themselves nationwide.

Electric power companies are encouraging households and businesses to use electricity more efficiently. It is desirable for users to cooperate as much as possible, such as by reducing the use of lighting and electrical equipment.

The biggest factor behind the power shortage is a lack of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is the main fuel for power generation, as the increase in electricity demand has grown more than expected.

Because LNG tends to evaporate, it is difficult to store the gas for a long time. For that reason, the LNG stock in Japan can last for only about two weeks. It is said that sufficient quantities of LNG cannot be secured due to delays in tanker operations caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, and also due to the competition for LNG with China and South Korea, which have been directly hit by a cold wave in the same manner as Japan.

As the competition for LNG with China and other countries is expected to continue, it is important for Japan to make efforts to strategically reconstruct its procurement network.

Currently, electric power companies are asking gas companies to supply LNG. It is necessary to consider strengthening measures to secure fuel in cooperation with other energy companies.

The situation this time highlighted again the weakness of renewable energy sources, whose output fluctuates greatly depending on the weather. Solar power generation, which has been expanding rapidly, has slowed down due to snowfall, spurring LNG consumption.

It is essential to utilize nuclear power plants, which provide stable output. The central government should thoroughly explain nuclear plants’ significance to the public and encourage the restart of the reactors.

The government has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to virtually zero by 2050. It is hoped that the government will take the electricity shortage this time as an opportunity to deepen discussions on how to ensure a stable supply of electricity without relying on thermal power generation that emits carbon dioxide.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 20, 2021.