For workers at Takeda Pharmaceutical Co.’s Osaka factory, the daily grind continued through the Golden Week holidays.
The company’s decision to work through the vacation days was decided in early April as uncertainty grew over whether the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., would resume operations.
They didn’t. And now that the last running reactor in Japan was shut down on May 5, companies and local governments across Japan have been brainstorming for ways to conserve energy amid prospects of another summer with possible electricity shortages.
Many steps being discussed, such as changing work schedules and shutting off non-essential lighting and services, were undertaken last summer after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami knocked out the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But larger-scale measures are also being considered, such as moving manufacturing operations to areas where power supplies are more stable and even introducing new taxes.
Takeda Pharmaceutical’s Golden Week plan was to have the Osaka plant manufacture products now to reduce the workload--and the energy consumed--in the summer. The company also plans to invest 5 billion yen ($62.6 million) to install generators by this summer at company plants and offices.
Its Osaka plant was in full operation on May 5, but the situation could be different in the summer, with Kansai Electric facing fierce opposition to its plans to restart the Oi reactors.
Takeda Pharmaceutical officials are now trying to determine if the products manufactured at the Osaka plant can also be produced this summer at its plant in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, which receives its electricity from Chugoku Electric Power Co.
"A shortage of pharmaceuticals could become a matter of life and death for patients," a company official said.
Many measures being considered across Japan cost money and could entail workers drastically changing their schedules.
For example, Nippon Steel Corp. is thinking about shifting production from the day to at night, while Daiei Inc. is considering implementing its own version of daylight saving time by having workers come in an hour earlier than usual.
But some are waiting for the government to explain how much the nation will continue to rely on nuclear energy.
"We will be unable to implement further measures unless the prospects (for nuclear plant operations are laid out by the central government)," said Yasuchika Hasegawa, chairman of Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives).
Even amid such uncertainty, some companies have gone ahead with new measures to ensure they have enough electricity in the summer.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has restarted a generator at its Kyoto plant that it took offline in 2006.
Kintetsu Department Store Co. plans to switch about 60 percent of its store lights to light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs by this summer.
Convenience store chains last summer took such energy conservation measures as reducing lighting in their stores in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, which were most seriously affected by last year's quake and tsunami. They plan to expand such measures nationwide this summer.
Other companies are installing new types of electric power meters to better grasp the volume of electricity being consumed.
Seven-Eleven Japan Co. began installing such meters in the Kanto region last summer, but it will expand that policy to 14,000 outlets around Japan.
Yaskawa Electric Corp. is installing a new system in all of its plants that can also forecast electricity demand 30 minutes ahead of time.
Employees of electric power companies, which have repeatedly warned of electricity shortages if all nuclear reactors remain offline, are now encouraging corporate clients to carry out energy conservation measures.
Kyushu Electric Power Co. plans to buy electricity during peak demand periods from companies that have their own generators. It is also trying to increase contracts that ask clients to refrain from using electricity when demand is high.
Kansai Electric is also considering a new system of purchasing electricity conserved by corporate clients.
The situation is especially urgent in the Kansai region, which is expected to face a request to cut electricity usage by more than 15 percent in the summer if the Oi reactors remain offline.
On April 26, officials from seven prefectural governments and the Osaka and Sakai municipal governments held a meeting to float ideas on how to cut energy use.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto suggested an "energy conservation tax," under which Kansai residents would be asked to pay 1,000 yen a month. With the tens of billions of yen collected, incentive payments could be distributed to large-volume electricity users that cooperate with energy conservation or install generators, according to his plan.
At a May 4 meeting of the energy strategy council established by the Osaka prefectural and municipal governments, the ideas proposed included a "siesta break" that would force companies to shut down between 1 and 4 p.m. during July and August as well as a lottery available to energy-conserving households.
At an April 17 meeting, high-ranking Tokyo metropolitan government officials explained Tokyo’s energy conservation measures last summer after the central government ordered large-volume users to cut electricity consumption between July and September.
Among the measures implemented were shutting off all vending machines and elevators and turning off half of the lights in offices used by government officials.
Those measures enabled the metropolitan government to achieve its goal of reducing electricity use by 25 percent over the summer of 2010, with peak usage in August falling to 7.824 gigawatts.
In contract negotiations in April with Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken Fukushima plant, the metropolitan government reduced its contracted volume from 11.10 megawatts to 9.50 megawatts, meaning the base electricity fee will be reduced by 30 million yen.
Moves to switch to renewable energy sources are also gaining momentum.
In late 2011, Odawara in Kanagawa Prefecture established a private-public council that seeks to expand the use of solar power. Plans call for accumulating money from within and outside the city into a fund that will be used to install solar panels on the roofs of homes and public facilities. The electricity generated would be sold and the returns passed on to the initial investors. A company to handle the project will be set up by the end of this year with plans to begin operations in fiscal 2013 at the earliest.
The Fukushima prefectural government, which has adopted a policy of moving away from dependence on nuclear energy, is cooperating with the private sector and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to construct windmills off the coast and geothermal plants in the Aizu region.
The Nihonmatsu municipal government in the prefecture is expanding its power generation facilities using solar and wind power for disaster management bases, such as public facilities and schools.
Nagaoka in Niigata Prefecture is located near TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. Because the city produces about 40 percent of all natural gas produced in the nation, the city government will install a generator that uses natural gas. The heat given off by power generation will also be used for air conditioning and to heat water.
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