Thursday, November 14, 2013

The day the lights went out

Japan is a remarkable country. When the earthquake disrupted power to Tokyo, people didn't panic. The issue was not just the loss of the Fukushima power station, massive as it was, but that this crisis led to the closure of all nuclear powered generation across Japan, some 30% of supply. Old, gas fired stations we unwrapped from their mothballs and even two oil rig generator ships were moored in Tokyo Bay and hooked up to the network.

But the worry in everyone's minds was the question of what would happen in summer. Peak power demand arises from the use of air conditioners in Japan rather than heating as in many European countries. Indeed, the absolute peak utilisation would arise from 11.00AM to around 4.00PM as the mid-day sun heats the land. And if there wasn't the power to drive this, the government was planning to switch off the supply. Tokyo and the rest of Kanto was under the threat of rolling blackouts, a massive disruption to house, home and transport as even the trains were not going to be immune.

So the government mandated all business must save a minimum of 15% on their prior year consumption. Companies organised weekend shifts to even the load across the week. Escalators were switch off and even vending machines were idled. But the incredible thing about Japan is that people managed it. We got through that first summer without collapse. And everyone pitched in and contributed their part. The predicted crisis was avoided as everyone simply switched out the lights.

Tokyo in February 2011, a month before the earthquake

Tokyo in June 2011, three months after the crisis. The city went dark.

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