Concerns are growing over the balance between electricity supply and demand in Japan

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Concerns are growing that the balance between electricity supply and demand will tighten in Japan this winter.

As the supply and demand situation worsens in February, power companies are racing to prevent a problem from occurring at their plants.

Some warn that the ongoing decarbonization campaign could lead to a tight supply-demand balance that would become a structural problem in the electricity sector.

A deterioration in the supply-demand balance could cause a large-scale blackout. It is estimated that the supply capacity of power plants must exceed demand by at least 3% in order to ensure a stable supply of electricity.

In January last year, the balance between supply and demand became tight, frequently reflecting a drop in national stocks of liquefied natural gas used as fuel for thermal electricity generation.

This winter, the electricity industry is stepping up its efforts to secure as much LNG as possible and increase inventories.

“I am informed that we have sufficient (LNG) stocks,” Kazuhiro Ikebe, head of the Federation of Electricity Companies of Japan, said at a press conference on January 14.

But between Jan. 6 and Jan. 7, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. was supplied with electricity by four other major power companies as its solar power generation facilities suffered a drop in output. On January 6, a heavy snowfall warning was issued for Tokyo for the first time in four years.

On January 11, Kansai Electric Power Co. supplied electricity to Hokuriku Electric Power Co., which encountered a problem at a thermal power plant.

Electricity reserve margin is expected to fall to 3.1% at Tepco and 3.9% at six other power companies, including Kansai Electric, in February if the weather is very cold in their service areas, even if thermal power plants mothballed for a long time are reactivated. .

The balance between supply and demand “would soon become strained if something happened at a power plant”, an industry ministry official said.

Behind the frequent tightening of the balance between supply and demand, there is not only an increase in the demand for electricity for heating, but also the generalization of the production of electricity from solar energies and other renewable energy sources, which is sensitive to weather conditions, according to some analysts.

The tighter balance between electricity supply and demand “could become a seasonal feature in winter in the wrong direction,” a power industry official said.

There is a power grid reinforcement plan to ensure flexibility of power supply between power companies.

But power shortages when the weather is unstable are a major problem even in Europe, which is leading other parts of the world in setting up international power grids and promoting renewable energy.

Medium- and long-term efforts to balance decarbonization with a stable supply of electricity are at stake, experts said.

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