Amid power crunch, Japan launches national electricity-saving drive

The Tokyo Tower is seen partially lit as part of energy-saving measures on March 22, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Air-conditioning to be set at 28 deg C during the hot summer months when the mercury can soar near 40 deg C; the "keep warm" function of rice cookers to be switched off as far as possible; and refrigerators to be "open and shut quickly".

These are among the measures that Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) recommended for households and businesses last week in a bid to ease a potential energy supply squeeze during the peak months in summer and winter.

The government also said it will take the lead by observing the room temperature guidelines and by switching off lighting as far as possible, as it issued a national setsuden (energy consumption) request last week in its first such national warning since 2015. This will be effective from July 1 to Sept 30.

The campaign comes as the Japan Meteorological Agency also warned that northern and eastern Japan have a 50 per cent chance of higher-than-average temperatures this summer.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, separately, has in a campaign known as HTT (reduce, create, store in Japanese) and also called on residents to unplug electricity-hungry appliances, to watch an hour less television a day and to switch off the heater functions on their toilet bidets.

While the power crunch has been worsened by unsteady supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG) due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, data also shows that Japan might have overstretched in its net zero climate push with a series of closures of ageing thermal power plants - both coal and LNG ones - without first ensuring a stable supply from renewable energy.

A report by public broadcaster NHK on Monday (June 13) said that thermal plants had over the last five years reduced their capacity by 16 million kilowatts per hour, or enough to power about 5.4 million standard households.

On top of that, plans to roll out another 13 power plants from last year - which would have collectively generated about 10 million kWh - have been discontinued, the report said.

"It is clear that the sharp decrease in thermal power generation is causing the current power shortage," the NHK report said.

According to Meti, there must be a power reserve ratio - which measures spare power capacity - of 3 per cent for the supply to be considered stable.

This summer, worst-case forecasts expect the figure to hit 3.1 per cent in the regions of Tokyo and Tohoku in north-east Japan, and Chubu in central Japan.

In winter months in January and February next year, however, some 1.1 million households in Tokyo may be at risk of blackouts with the power reserve ratio expected to fall to minus 0.6 per cent in the capital.

The ratio is expected to be under 3 per cent across the Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu islands of Japan.

"The power supply-demand balance in summer and winter will be tight," chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said last week, though no numerical targets were set.

But he added that the government will put in place a new "warning" system to call for early power saving.

This is on top of the existing "tight demand-supply warning" that was activated in Tokyo and Tohoku in March, when the two areas narrowly escaped widespread blackouts in a cold snap, after a major earthquake that month knocked several plants offline.

Industry minister Koichi Hagiuda said last week: "We will take every possible measure to ensure supply, including the restart of idle power plants, additional procurement of fuels, and the maximum use of renewables and nuclear power."

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