2011 March 24 Thursday
Energy Shortages In Japan

We all take electric power for granted (survivalists excepted). But as the Japanese are finding, we are one disaster away from electric power shortages.

The first pitch of Japan's baseball season has been pushed back so that people don't waste gasoline driving to games. When the season does start, most night games will be switched to daytime so as not to squander electricity. There'll be no extra innings.

Tokyo's iconic electronic billboards have been switched off. Trash is piling up in many northern Japanese cities because garbage trucks don't have gasoline. Public buildings go unheated. Factories are closed, in large part because of rolling blackouts and because employees can't drive to work with empty tanks.

Just what disasters could cause severe power shortages varies by country. Nations differ greatly in the extent of their vulnerability. But a solar Carrington event would leave many countries short on electric power.

TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) used to average 51 million kilowatt hours on average but now tops out at 35 million kilowatts. Summertime needs are at about 60 million. Living in Tokyo this summer won't be pleasant.

Since Japan is divided between 60 Hz and 50 Hz grids with little connection between them the western 60 Hz grid has lots of power while the 50 Hz grid (which has Fukushima and Tokyo in it) has a severe electric power shortage. The rolling blackouts make electric train commuting intermittent and this disrupts work schedules.

In order to rebuild areas damaged by earthquakes and the tsunami Japan's steel mills need to ramp up production. But while the mills suffered little damage they lack sufficient electric power to operate at maximum capacity. Since the Japanese are steel exporters they can probably compensate by exporting less steel.

You might think the Japanese could save electric power by rapidly switching to more energy efficient appliances. But their standards for appliance efficiency are already very high (higher than the United States) and they've already made many of the easy changes for boosting energy efficiency. High energy efficiency has a curious side effect: If a single unit of energy enables production of a large quantity of goods and services then elimination of that unit of energy causes a larger reduction in total output than would happen in a less energy efficient economy.

By Randall Parker    2011 March 24 11:46 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
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