Posts Tagged ‘TEPCO’

Breaker, breaker: How to conserve energy without thinking too much

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Power trip: electrical panel with 30-ampere main breaker switch

Last Monday the summer setsuden (electricity-saving) campaign started. All the regional utilities except Okinawa’s are requesting that customers cut back on their energy use so as not to put a strain on the grid, which has been compromised by the shutdown of so many nuclear power plants in the wake of last year’s meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 reactors. As evidenced by the large anti-nuclear demonstrations taking place, a lot of people have strong feelings about atomic energy, but whether you believe it to be too dangerous to handle or an acceptable alternative to carbon-based sources, the best way to address the more pressing issue of energy shortages is to reduce usage.

Though there are many piecemeal methods for saving energy, one way to immediately cut down is to exchange your main circuit breaker, the gatekeeper for the current that flows into your home. Power is measured by means of watts, and the number printed on your breaker, which stands for amperes, represents the maximum amount of wattage that can pass into your home at one time. Different household appliances use different amounts of power. Anything that cooks or produces heat will use more power than other appliances. When the amount of power flowing into your home exceeds the ampere level of your breaker, it automatically trips, causing a blackout, but only in your home. If you use a lot of electricity, then you should install a breaker with a higher ampere number.

In Japan, household breakers come in seven steps, from 10 amperes to 60. The higher the number, the higher the basic charge on your monthly electricity bill. If you are a Tokyo Electric Power Co. customer you pay ¥273 for 10 amperes, ¥409 for 15, ¥546 for 20, ¥819 for 30, ¥1,092 for 40, ¥1,365 for 50 and ¥1,638 for 60. In order to figure out which breaker level is appropriate, take a survey of all your household appliances and how often you use each one.

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The economics of scapegoating vending machines

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Two machines are always better than one

For his part in reviving a crippled Japan, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara has made himself the point man in the demonization of vending machines. “Only in such a country do you see them lined up everywhere,” he groused recently, and suggested that anyone who wants a cold drink buy it in a store and put it in his own refrigerator.

There are various reasons why vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan. From the demand side, Japanese people just like gadgets and don’t always enjoy the face-to-face experience of dealing with store clerks. From the supply side, Japan is a relatively safe country, meaning you can install as many vending machines as the law allows without fear of vandalism. And the law allows a lot. However, if Ishihara and four other Kanto region prefectural governors have their way, vending machine operations will be curbed, at least during the summer peak electrical usage months. According to Sankei Shimbun, the five Kanto prefectures are pushing the central government to implement directives to limit electrical usage of vending machines based on existing ordinances, some of which have been in place since the “oil shocks” of the 1970s.

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Tepco blackouts roll only so far

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

The Tokyo Broadcasting Service’s main nuclear energy pundit is Muneo Morokuzu, a University of Tokyo professor who used to work for Toshiba. Earlier this week, while a commentator on the morning show “Asa Zuba!,” he was asked by host Monta Mino about Tokyo Electric Power Company’s scheduled blackouts (keikaku teiden), which have been playing havoc with customers’ lives in the Kanto region. “These problems always have the greatest effect on the most vulnerable people,” Morokuzu said.

Home before dark: Machiya Ekimae station on the Arakawa line

His remark seems to be true, though perhaps not in the way he intended it. Since Tepco implemented power outages to save electricity after the failure of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear reactor caused by the earthquake/tsunami of March 11, certain areas of the Kanto region have been purposely subjected to occasional blackouts. The outages are supposed to be planned and announced in advance, but so far they’ve been sporadic. Announcements are made and then changed on an almost hourly basis. Originally, the idea was to have “rolling blackouts” (rinban teiden), meaning that each targeted area would have its electricity cut off in succession, which sounded like the fairest way to do it. However, it never happened that way, and now the official name of the scheme is “scheduled blackouts.” The affected areas cover Tokyo and eight prefectures, with the blackout plan collecting disparate neighborhoods into five “groups.” But the neighborhoods were never specified clearly, and even if your neighborhood was targeted for a scheduled blackout, you often didn’t know if it was really going to happen until the designated hour arrived.

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Power to the people: TEPCO at economic cross-purposes with blackout strategy

Friday, March 18th, 2011

An article in this week’s Sunday Mainichi implies that Tokyo Electric Power Company’s series of planned blackouts in the Kanto region to address power shortages as a result of the failure of the Fukushima nuclear reactors is a kind of demonstration, the point of which is to show customers that they really need those nuclear reactors, even if they are on the verge of rendering the Tohoku region radioactive. Though the article’s tone is cynical, anti-nuclear forces have been accusing Tepco of essentially the same PR strategy for years. Faced with another serious power shortage in 2003, Tepco threatened blackouts unless customers cut back after the company was forced to shut down reactors for emergency inspections in light of a safety scandal.

Tepco "eco-cute" ad for "economical" (not "ecological") all-electric house

Electricity users in the Kanto region are already dealing with periodic power outages to save energy, and because we’re doing as we’re told, some planned outages have been canceled. The problem with generating electricity over a conventional power grid is that once you generate it you can’t recover any that isn’t used. And unlike thermal generators that use fossil fuels, nuclear reactors cannot be turned up or down at will. Once they are operating it takes months to turn them off. Tepco’s output is basically a blend of constant nuclear power and fluctuating thermal and other forms of power generation. The 10 Fukushima reactors provided 14 percent of Tepco’s power, about 50 million kilowatts.

Average power consumption at any given moment during March in the Kanto region is estimated at 47 million kw. This is far less than the 65 million kw that are normally consumed during the peak days of summer, when air conditioners are on, but last Monday, when Tepco launched the planned blackouts, the maximum output available was 31 million kw, so Tepco had to convince homes and businesses to use less than that. If they didn’t, they would have to cut power to the designated “groups.”

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