Japan heat wave tests electricity supply

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The Japanese government’s calls for saving electricity appeared to be a mere formality as the whole nation swelters amid the worst heatwave on record on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida inching toward a restart of nuclear power.

Japan has been asking some 37 million people living in and around Tokyo to curb electricity use for a third day Wednesday. However, those efforts appeared to have come to nothing despite some retailers and manufacturers introducing measures to save energy.

“My company sent emails telling people to save energy but nothing else was attached,” an office worker in Tokyo who preferred to be called Yuriko told China Daily. “You know in Japan, a lot of things like this are just going through the motions.”

“The government requests are contradictory, because on the one hand they called for people to turn off lights and power switches for three hours in the afternoon but on the other, they told you to use air conditioning to avoid heatstroke,” said Iyona Nishijima, a 30-year-old housewife. “As a result, I will have to just ignore the request.”

Under these circumstances the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, joined in to some degree. On Tuesday it asked its members to cooperate “as much as possible” but also warned members not to “take (the measures) too far.”

Under Keidanren’s pressure, Seven & i Holdings will tweak operations at some 8,800 7-Eleven convenience stores by not frying food or refilling display cases between 3 and 6 pm. Hitachi said it will shift its usage of power-hungry facilities, such as voltage testing equipment, to nighttime use only and halt some nonessential operations.

However, the country’s worst June heatwave in almost 150 years made those contributions a drop in the bucket and further disincentivized people from following the government’s request.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the temperature in Tokyo reached above 35 C on Wednesday for a fifth straight day. It broke the record for hot weather in June since measurements started in 1875. And in Isesaki, a city northwest of Tokyo, the temperature went to 40.2 degrees, the highest temperature ever recorded in June for Japan.

The agency also forecasted Tokyo temperatures won’t drop back to 30 degrees until July 5, fueling fears a shortage of electricity may stop air conditioners from whirring.

“The electricity demand and supply situation has been the toughest in the last three days (of this week),” an official from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said at a news conference, adding power demand in Tokyo and its surrounding area on Wednesday afternoon could match the peak summer levels of the last few years.

An estimation of the Organization for Cross-regional Coordination of Transmission Operators, Japan’s national grid monitor, showed the reserve ratio of power generation capacity for the Tokyo area could fall as low as 2.6 percent on Wednesday afternoon — below the minimum threshold of 3 percent deemed necessary to ensure stable supply in Japan.

In response, Kishida, who is still on a state trip to Europe, hinted at a restart of the country’s controversial nuclear power plants to secure supply.

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