Use mechanism to swiftly urge conservation of electricity

With serious power shortages expected from this summer onward, households and businesses will likely be asked to cooperate in conserving electricity. It is important for the government and power utility companies to act promptly when calling for cooperation.

To respond to possible power shortages, the government has decided to introduce an advisory system to widely notify the public of the situation as soon as possible.

The supply and demand for power must always be balanced, and an imbalance will cause large-scale blackouts to occur. It is essential to secure a reserve margin, which indicates how much excess capacity there is in the power supply, of at least 3%.

Currently, a warning is issued to ask people to save electricity when the reserve margin is likely to fall below 3%. The advisory that the government plans to introduce would be issued when the margin is expected to drop below 5%.

A warnings is now supposed to be issued at 6 p.m. on the day before a predicted power crunch, in principle, but this will be moved up to 4 p.m., and an advisory will be issued at the same time. It is important to predict power shortages based on weather forecasts and other data, so as to call for energy conservation at an early stage.

In March this year, the government issued a warning for the first time regarding a tight supply-demand balance in Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s service areas, due to the effects of an earthquake and a cold wave. However, it was already about 9 p.m. the day before the expected power shortage, and many companies were unable to take steps in response.

As a result, power demand did not decrease as expected, raising the risk of large-scale blackouts. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda held an emergency press conference in the afternoon that day to strongly urge people to conserve electricity, and demand for electricity finally began to be curbed. A recurrence of this situation must be avoided.

Suspending operations at factories and shortening business hours at offices and stores are said to be highly effective in reducing electricity consumption. It is hoped that companies will have enough time to prepare to take such actions.

The government also plans to issue preparatory information two days before an expected power crunch to alert the public.

However, it is feared that providing too much information in advance could confuse the public, and therefore not result in enough conservation of electricity. Providing easy-to-understand information is important.

It is also desirable to clarify specific measures and the subsequent results, so as to explain what actions will save electricity and to what extent, such as changing the temperature setting of air conditioners and turning off lights in empty rooms.

The expected power shortage is attributed mainly to the suspension and abolition of aging thermal power plants. The government and electric power companies must not rely solely on the public to save electricity, but also work together to increase the supply capacity.

In the interest of promoting decarbonization, the government is focusing on the expansion of renewable energy such as solar power generation, but the shortcoming of such energy is that the output is unstable because it is dependent on weather conditions.

To complement this, it is necessary to expedite the development of a power grid that will enable cross-regional power interchange and the development of large storage batteries. It is also essential to use nuclear power plants, which have a stable output.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 30, 2022)