Scrimping on electricity usage by households and businesses across Japan helped the government attain its numerical energy-saving targets for the first week of July and avert a power crunch.
With only one of the nation's 50 nuclear reactors in operation, there were widespread fears that shortages would be unavoidable.
But figures show that electricity consumption was down in the first week of July compared with the same period two years ago, prior to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.
The industry ministry said peak daily power use from Monday, July 2, to Friday, July 6, was smaller than on the corresponding days of the week July 5-9, 2010, in areas serviced by the nine regional power utilities except for Okinawa Electric Power Co.
That is partly because temperatures tended to be lower than two years ago, which was marked by one of the hottest summers on record.
The initial power-saving target, which took effect July 2 for the area served by Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO), was 15 percent relative to two years ago.
Similar numerical targets for the service areas of other utilities were 10 percent for Kyushu Electric Power Co.; 7 percent for Shikoku Electric Power Co.; and 5 percent for Hokuriku Electric Power Co., Chubu Electric Power Co. and Chugoku Electric Power Co.
No numerical saving targets were set for the service areas of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and Tohoku Electric Power Co.
A 7-percent saving target will apply to the service area of Hokkaido Electric Power Co. from July 23.
In KEPCO's service area, peak power use in the week of July 2-6 was between 9.2 and 20.6 percent smaller than on corresponding days of the week two years ago.
The reduction rates exceeded the 15-percent target on all days except July 6, when the maximum temperature in Osaka was higher than on the corresponding Friday two years ago.
A comparison of Wednesday, July 4, when the mercury hit 29.6 degrees, and Wednesday, July 7, 2010, when the maximum was 29.8 degrees shows a 17.6-percent reduction. These two dates had the smallest difference in temperature levels, and thus offer the closest estimate of the net effect of power-saving efforts.
"I have the impression that (our customers) have gone to great lengths to save power," KEPCO's executive vice president, Jiroh Kagawa, told a news conference July 9.
Power use in the week of July 2-6 also fell significantly below 2010 levels in the service areas of TEPCO and Tohoku Electric, where no numerical saving targets are in place this summer.
The reduction rates were between 14.0 and 25.5 percent for TEPCO and between 16.0 and 19.7 percent for Tohoku Electric, demonstrating that power saving efforts have taken root among the utilities' customers.
Industry ministry officials said they will keep a close eye on trends in power use as the season approaches its zenith.
But as temperatures start to soar, people are bound to lose patience and seek refuge in air conditioning.
As the No. 3 reactor of KEPCO's Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture reached full output capacity on July 9, the industry ministry relaxed its power-saving targets in the service areas of four power utilities--from 15 percent to 10 percent for KEPCO, from 5 percent to 4 percent for Hokuriku Electric and Chubu Electric, and from 5 percent to 3 percent for Chugoku Electric--effective July 10.
The No. 3 reactor went back online July 1, becoming the first to do so since the Fukushima disaster 16 months ago.
However, industry officials say power shortages may still occur if there are heat waves or glitches at power plants.
(This article was written by Toru Nakagawa and Daisuke Fukuma.)
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