Concerns are growing over a tightening in the supply-demand balance for electricity in Japan this winter.
With the supply-demand situation seen becoming more severe in February, power companies are rushing to prevent a problem from happening at their power stations.
Some warn that the ongoing decarbonization drive may lead to a tight supply-demand balance becoming a structural problem in the power industry.
A deterioration in the supply-demand balance could cause a large-scale power failure. It is believed that power plants’ supply capacity needs to exceed demand by at least 3% in order to ensure stable electricity supply.
In January last year, the supply-demand balance became tight frequently reflecting a drop in domestic inventories of liquefied natural gas used as fuel for thermal power generation.
This winter, the power industry is ramping up efforts to secure as much LNG as possible and increase inventories.
“I’m informed that we have sufficient (LNG) inventories,” Kazuhiro Ikebe, head of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, said at a news conference Jan. 14.
But between Jan. 6 and 7, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. received electricity supplies from four other major power companies as its solar power generation facilities suffered a fall in their output. On Jan. 6, a heavy snow warning was issued for Tokyo for the first time in four years.
On Jan. 11, Kansai Electric Power Co. supplied electricity to Hokuriku Electric Power Co., which faced a problem at a thermal power station.
The electricity reserve margin is expected to fall to 3.1% at Tepco and to 3.9% at six other power firms, including Kansai Electric, in February if the weather is very cold in their service areas, even if long-mothballed thermal power plants are reactivated.
The supply-demand balance “would become tight soon if something happens at a power station,” an official at the industry ministry said.
Behind the frequent tightening in the supply-demand balance are not only an increase in demand for electricity for heating but also the spread of power generation using solar and other renewable energy sources, which is susceptible to weather condition, some analysts said.
Tightening in the electricity supply-demand balance “could become a seasonal feature in winter in a bad sense,” a power industry official said.
There is a plan to strengthen the power grid to make sure that electricity supplies between power companies are made flexibly.
But power shortages when weather is unstable are a major issue even in Europe, which is leading other parts of the world in the establishment of international power grids and promotion of renewable energy.
At issue are medium- to long-term efforts to balance decarbonization with stable electricity supply, pundits said.
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