The entire nation needs to cut back on electricity usage this summer. There is little time left before the sweltering heat hits. The central and local governments must start working together immediately, especially in the Kansai region where power shortages are feared.
An independent panel of academics and others, tasked to examine the power supply and demand situation, held their first meeting on April 23. Electric power companies attended the meeting and gave their supply-demand forecasts for this summer.
Peak time supply shortfall estimates are substantially better than those announced last November, as the utilities factored in consumption cuts made possible by energy-saving efforts. Still, power will be in short supply in areas serviced by Kansai Electric Power Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Hokkaido Electric Power Co.
In particular, Kansai Electric, or KEPCO, anticipates a double-digit shortfall rate.
In the meantime, the rift is widening between the central government and local authorities over the restart of KEPCO's Oi nuclear power plant.
On April 24, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura to review the plant's restart procedures, but no agreement was reached. Kyoto and Shiga prefectures also remain at odds with the central government on the Oi issue.
Even if the Oi plant resumes operation, KEPCO will still be more than 8 percent shy of meeting projected demand this summer. Restart or not, the authorities must come up with good, workable energy-saving plans.
However, it is not that the projected power shortages will affect consumers 24/7. The key lies in dealing with peak demand.
Based on weather forecasts and past patterns of corporate activities, it should be possible to make fairly accurate demand predictions one day in advance. The effects on economic activities and people's daily lives can be lessened if a system is put in place to share information on peak consumption predictions, so that energy can be conserved effectively.
KEPCO has a three-level system of rating supply-demand forecasts for the next day. If an immediate demand shortfall is anticipated, KEPCO sends bulk e-mails through the local authorities to urge consumers to save power. This e-mail service needs to be further fine-tuned to increase subscribers.
Setting up a " power-saving market" is also an issue that demands immediate attention. The concept is for power companies to disclose information concerning time periods that require energy saving in advance, the amount of electricity that needs to be saved and the basic electricity price, so that businesses and other consumers capable of curtailing their electricity consumption can bid for the volume to be saved and the selling price.
The system not only enables consumers to cut costs, but also make money by selling electricity. And it increases power companies' supply options, which helps them avoid making unnecessary investments in facilities over the medium to long term.
Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka are keenly interested in this concept. Both the central and local governments should work together to see how best they can curb power demand.
The need for effective energy-saving plans has been felt acutely since last summer. Businesses that have been inconvenienced by the government's abrupt blackout plans and power-saving orders are deeply annoyed at the lack of progress over the past year.
This summer, they will certainly not tolerate a repeat of last summer.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 25
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