Japan Power Grid crisis: countdown for shutdown

Hokkaido Electric Power Company has started with the shut down of reactor N0. 3 of the Tomari atomic power plant. By Sunday, the unit of 912 MW will officially come offline.Tomari nuclear power plant
Although the shut down is due for its regular maintenance checkup this is a dramatic event for Japan. It is the last of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors that will be switched off and then Japan will be completely without nuclear power.

Until last year, before the Fukushima accident, Japan was planning to generate half its electricity from nuclear energy by 2030. But now in one year time about 50 gigawatts of nuclear power plant capacity has been switched off, that is about 30% of the electricity generation in Japan.

The government already projects a 5% power shortage for Tokyo, while power companies predict a 16% power shortfall in western Japan, which includes the major industrial city of Osaka.

Unsurprisingly, this loss of electricity generation in Japan is leading to massive changes. Much of the capacity that has been lost or suspended has been replaced by carbon-heavy fossil fuels generating thermal power. Oil, coal and gas now generate about nearly 90 percent of Japan’s electricity, with hydropower accounting for about 8 percent and other renewables (solar, wind, etc.) making up the balance. The International Energy Agency estimates shutting all nuclear plants increases oil demand by 465000 barrels a day to 4.5 million barrels a day, raising Japan’s daily costs by about $100 million.

The business sector starts to feel the consequences of the growing dependence on fossil fuels. Tokyo Electric Power Company faced heavy criticism when it announced that it would increase rates starting from the first of April .The Japan Information Technology Services Industry Association in late March demanded the hike be postponed but the electricity supplier said it had been facing with mounting costs for fossil fuels to run thermal plants because all of its nuclear reactors were shut.

On top of this Japan is also facing another problem. Without nuclear power, Japan is projected to produce an additional 180 million-210 million tons of emissions this fiscal year compared to the base year of 1990, when emissions totaled 1.261 billion tons. That wipes out a significant chunk of reductions Japan achieved earlier. Officials believe Japan can still barely meet its commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions during the five-year period through 2012 by an average of 6 percent from 1990 levels.

To stimulate the use of alternative energy sources, the government is easing restrictions on land use for solar and wind power. It also is relaxing regulations on small hydropower projects and regulations on drilling for geothermal energy in national parks. More crucially, last week it approved feed-in tariffs that are expected to spur investment by guaranteeing higher returns for renewable than for conventional energy. From July, utilities will be required to buy electricity from renewable energy from providers at a rate of 42 yen ($0.52) per kilowatt hour (kWh) for solar energy, 23 yen/kWh for wind power and 30-35 yen/kWh for small-scale hydropower. These preferential rates will apply for 10 to 20 years depending on the energy source.

Just like last year changes can also be expected on the demand side by including the weekend and night operation of factories to spread the electricity load, and much less use of air conditioning.

It will be a close match to get power supply and demand equation right and data center providers shall be fighting again to prevent rolling black outs this summer.

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