With fewer and fewer nuclear power plants up and running, Japan has just barely made it through summer without power outages or black-outs. Thanks to millions of people reducing their electricity consumption, the worst case scenario has been avoided. The energy crunch is far from over, though.
There is virtually no hope of "renewable" energy making up for the huge loss as 39 nuclear reactors are off-line, with huge doubts if they can be restarted at all in the cases where they were not destroyed. It is worth noting that Tokyo and the entire Kanto region will not be back to "normal" again, ever.
As we take stock of events since March 11, 2011 there is now also news that oil and coal plants, (also known as "thermal" power plants) are suffering glitches and trouble. While such issues can be resolved much more easily than the emergencies due to the earthquake and tsunami, they still make for a tense energy environment. Add to that the upheavals in the Middle East and difficulties related to oil imports...
The recent series of suspensions occurred mainly as a result of extended hours of operation of the power generators to help offset an anticipated power shortage following the outbreak of the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The recent string of troubles at thermal power plants has raised new concern about the nation's electricity supply. As of Friday, power generators at four thermal power plants nationwide were suspended due to various troubles. Nuclear reactors generate a continuous output once they are activated, while thermal power generators are relatively easier to turn on and off. For this reason, many thermal power generators are turned on during the day to offset shortfalls in output from nuclear reactors when electricity demand is higher, and turned off at night and on weekends when power demand is lower.
Currently, however, with 39 of 54 nuclear reactors idled for regular inspections or shut down for other reasons, electric power utilities have extended operating hours of the thermal power generators, leading to malfunctions. One industry source said, "If thermal power generators are operated at a high output capacity for extended hours, the probability of trouble increases."
From Yomiuri: Thermal power plants strained / 8 suspensions in 2 months due to extended use amid shortages
Image from Pink Tentacle. 節電 (setsuden) is the Japanese word for reducing electricity use, a very common term these days!
Graph from The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, showing Japan's huge reliance on crude oil imported from the Middle East. According to FEPC data, nuclear power production has decreased year-on-year by 50.2% while thermal (oil and coal) has increased 14.6%, a huge shift. Renewable ("New") energy has increased by 12.5% but at just 220,603 MWh it is still negligable. PDF:
Power Generated and Purchased (July, 2011) 82,954,295 MWh
Hydro 6,849,757 MWh
Thermal (Oil, Coal) 49,430,280 MWh
"New" etc. 220,603 MWh
It is also worth noting that the overall energy consumption has gone down, as the economy is down-sizing - (hrm, hrm) we are in a recession.
Hat tip to Pandabonium for the link to the important article in The Yomiuri... It is easy to miss such news when so much is going on right now.