On Jan. 19, as Japan faces a nationwide shortage of electricity, an advisory committee of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) began analyzing problems that need to be addressed to ensure a stable energy supply.
METI’s Basic Policy Subcommittee on Electricity and Gas (chair: Hirotaka Yamauchi, specially appointed professor at Hitotsubashi University) will especially focus on issues concerning renewable energy such as solar power, whose production is greatly affected by whether conditions, as well as fuel shortage for thermal power generation. The subcommittee’s report and proposals will be finalized by spring.
The group has so far identified three factors that led to the shortage: (1) a drastic reduction in solar power generation; (2) a shortage of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) stock to fuel thermal power; and (3) persisting high demand for electricity.
METI reported that on Jan. 8, demand for electricity exceeded the maximum demand estimated last fall in 7 out of 10 regions, each served by separate utilities. In Kansai, Hokuriku, and 3 other regions, supply capacity (reserve margin) dropped below 3%, which is regarded as the minimum for ensuring a stable energy supply.
The subcommittee analyzed that the bad weather in the Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu regions around the New Year holidays temporarily reduced solar power generation, accounting for a 10% decline in the region’s total energy supply. Meanwhile, persistent high demand for electricity depleted the LNG stockpile, hindering thermal power generation that was supposed to have eased the crunch.
The group agreed to revise the government estimates on energy demand in the pre-winter season based on the analysis and the high demand for electricity. At the meeting, many members expressed concern that the nation’s increasing dependence on renewable energy would increase the possibility of a power shortage. They stressed the need for diversification of energy sources, including nuclear power. The government will explore ways to establish an environment where nuclear power and thermal power can be maintained and utilized into the future.
A system of supervision will be necessary as well to gauge and ascertain the amount of fuel needed to avoid a shortfall in the LNG stockpile.
Additionally, the members discussed the hike in the wholesale electricity price utilities charged to electric power retailers — a hike to a level more than 20 times the normal level because of the shortage. Toshihiro Matsumura of the University of Tokyo, who is a member of the committee, pointed out that as an overseer [of electricity transactions] the committee now bear a heavier responsibility.