Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 5/2014

The situation of electric power supply in Japan and the role of TENPES

One of the prime objectives of TENPES (Thermal and Nuclear Power Engineering Society) is the development and improve­ment of power generating technologies and to ultimately con­tribute to Japan’s economic growth. This objective is very similar to VGB´s mission and made us signing a memorandum of under­standing between VGB PowerTech and TENPES in August 2006 under which we have continued to exchange technical informa­tion. Through regular VGB-TENPES technical exchange meet­ings, we have helped to advance each other’s thermal power gen­eration technologies. I believe that maintaining and furthering these good relations between our organisations will be mutually beneficial.

Three years have passed since Japan was struck by the great East Japan earthquake of March 11, 2011, but its effects on Japan’s energy policy are still being felt, as our policy remains in a state of flux.

Since September 2013, when units 3 and 4 of the Ohi nuclear power station of Kansai Electric Power Company were taken off line for regular inspection, all the country’s nuclear power plants have been standing idle, with no clear prospect for their restart even today. During this time, Japan’s energy needs have being largely met by conventional thermal power generation, includ­ing some facilities that are old and would normally be retired by now due their condition. The country has had to import large amounts of fossil fuels at considerable cost, amounting to ap­proximately 50 billion Euros annually. And it is even worse that the recent drop in the Yen exchange rate has increased fuel costs further. This is having severe impact on the balance sheets of electric power companies, and one after the other is increasing its electricity rates.

Being an island nation, of course, Japan is in no position to inter­connect its electrical supply system with those of other countries, as in the case of Europe. For many years, the supply of electric power in Japan was carried out by ten power companies, each being allowed to have a monopoly on its regional market, in a vertically integrated business scheme. Partial liberalisation of the market was launched in 1995, mainly affecting major cus­tomers, and has continued gradually since that time. This year the Japanese Government is aiming to enact a new law that would delink power generation and transmission and achieve full retail liberalisation.

When implementing liberalisation, it is essential to take due ac­count of the special nature of electricity as a commodity as well as the geographical conditions of Japan. It must also be imple­mented with the understanding and consent of all citizens. There is no doubt that in Japan, which imports nearly all its energy resources from other coun­tries, it is even more impor­tant than e.g. in EU countries that we attain energy security, environmental conservation, and economic efficiency based on the prerequisite of ensuring safety – in other words, S+3E. I consider technology to be the key in achieving S+3E simul­taneously.

Japan’s electric power op­erators, like their EU coun­terparts, are faced with is­sues such as expanding the use of renewable energy. To deal with these issues, they are therefore working on enhancing the operational flexibility of thermal power generation plants as well as developing high-efficiency power generation technologies and low-carbon technologies, including A-USC (advanced ultra-supercritical), IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle), GTCC+FC (gas turbine combined cycle with fuel cells), and CCS (carbon capture and storage).

In technical and other exchanges with VGB PowerTech, we at TENPES are committed to sharing information on environmental and other issues, including electric power systems and climate change.

I sincerely hope that this ongoing cooperation will not only benefit TENPES members and Japan’s growth but will help us making contributions, along with VGB, to global advancement.