Prepare to walk tightrope of power supply and demand

There is concern that electricity supply and demand will be tight again this winter. It is hoped that reasonable power-saving efforts will be widely adopted.

The government has decided to ask households and businesses across the country to save electricity between Dec. 1 and the end of March next year. Although no numerical target has been set, this is the first time in seven years that a request has been made to save electricity during winter.

At present, the electricity reserve ratio, which indicates the surplus capacity of power supply, can cover the minimum 3% required for a stable supply within the service areas of all electric power companies in Japan. But Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. have each said they will have a reserve ratio of only 4.1% in January next year.

As natural resource prices have soared due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other reasons, electricity charges have risen sharply. It is also desirable to cooperate in saving electricity in order to reduce the burden on households.

According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, lowering the air-conditioning temperature setting from 22 C to 20 C at home for heating in winter can reduce daily electricity use by 2.7%.

In office buildings, reducing the lighting in workplaces by half will reduce electricity use by at least 7%, the ministry said. It is important to continue making steady efforts in this regard.

The government has set up a rewards system for saving electricity with points that can be used for electricity bills, shopping and other purposes.

Households will receive points equivalent to ¥2,000 just for participating in the system. Furthermore, they will receive an additional ¥1,000 of points a month if they save at least 3% of their electricity compared to the same month in the previous year. The government needs to make efforts to publicize the system.

On the other hand, it is unreasonable to rely solely on the people to save electricity. One of the reasons for the electricity shortage is also on the supply side. For example, a number of unprofitable thermal power plants have been shut down or their operations suspended. The government and utility firms must make efforts to improve supply capacity.

As of June, the reserve ratios of TEPCO and Tohoku Electric were expected to fall to 1.5% in January next year. They managed to increase the ratios through such measures as operating thermal power plants that had been shut down due to aging, but there is also a risk that sudden problems could occur because the plants are so old.

Power companies should thoroughly maintain and manage their power plants.

It is also important to secure liquefied natural gas (LNG) for fuel use. There is global competition for LNG due to a decrease in supply caused by the Ukraine crisis. The public and private sectors need to work together to do all they can to find new suppliers, among other steps.

In July, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan would restart up to nine nuclear reactors in preparation for the winter. However, this was already planned, and the locations are concentrated in western Japan.

The effects of these planned restarts have resulted in Kansai Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s reserve ratio forecasts for January next year recovering to 5.6% from 1.9% in June. The central government should support the restart of nuclear reactors in eastern Japan too.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 9, 2022)