Thursday, 19 July 2012

Electricity & politics 2012 part 1

Things seems to be changing in Japan.  Though I can't really say in what direction.

On Friday I went to the anti nuclear protests outside the prime ministers official residence - more to see what is happening rather than to be an active participant.   I have mixed feelings about nuclear issue.  On the one hand it has given Japan some stability particularly in the post oil shock era of energy uncertainty, but on the other hand the industry has been built on collusion and corruption.  It's partly paternalistic - that they that be know best,  but there has also been  very cynical manipulation and disregard for the population.  World over a lot of people believed in nuclear as a safe clean energy - presumably mostly in good faith.  However, a report commissioned by the Diet and released recently has stated plainly that the disaster was man-made - both the government and the regulators knew that TEPCO was stalling on making safety improvments that had been demanded.

Japan survived for several months with no nuclear reactors operating - even though they had been supplying 30% of national energy. The week before last, the Oi plant in Fukui was brought back online, to meet the "serious shortfall" of industry, despite a reaosnable amount of opposition.   Opposition has been fuelled by claims that there is a fault line under the reactor.  The rationale for the restart doesn't seem to make complete sense.
If the summer energy consumption is so much higher, it seems a no brainer to reduce the summer consumption.  And to be fair there are efforts being made, particularly at the government level.  The remedies being offered however tend to be increase the temperature of the aircon - the campaigns are not to turn off the aircon.  There are still restaurants and coffee shops that feel cold not cool, at uni I've walked into classrooms with the aircon on, the door open and no-one in the room...   In our building there were people adding a second aircon, which of course is their right, but I wonder how deeply the idea of electricity saving is seeping in to the public habits. Awareness of the need for electricity savings is there, but I'm sceptical about the degree of personal commitment to energy savings - particularly when someone else is paying the bill...
The argument is always being put that without nuclear there can't be viable industry, but I'm yet to be convinced.  Industry seems to have been able to operate without the nuclear facilities.Japan has been built on a presumption of cheap electricity - poorly insulated houses, flippant electricity usage like toilet seat warmers (not such big energy consumers when the seat is left down, but it often doesn't seem to be the case), shops that have been set to 20 degrees, shops with out aircurtains.  Is it the availability of energy that has enabled the demand, or increased demand that has necessitated increased supply.  It has to be both.  There used to be promotional posters to switch over to all electric houses based on nuclear power being cheap.  I'll keep trying to dig some up.  

Committment to setsuden: installing a second aircon...

The graph below is quite interesting and perhaps turns on its head the idea that Japanese industry cannot survive without nuclear. 

Japanese Energy Consumption

Increased demand corrolates with increased supply - though establishing cause and effect is more difficult.  scroll down for a list here of nuclear plants.


SomedaysSarah said...

I went to Osaka over the weekend and since I came back everyone has been asking me about Osaka's setsuden measures. Despite what they've been saying on the news about Osaka and setsuden, however, I certainly didn't see any evidence of it. The most blatant example being HUGE aircons in the middle of open stations. Not just a little bit of air being blown into subway stations, but above ground open air stations with AC units set to arctic freeze.

I wonder if there will be an actual change, instead of just talked-about and hyped up change when the electricity price hikes hit people's pocketbooks?

Cecilia said...

Very interesting. That is definitely photo worthy - expose & shame! Osaka is the the KEPCO area, as is the Oi reactor...
Common sense says reducing electricity consumption is a good thing - environmentally, financially...

I also don't know anything about the extent of opposition to nuclear (protests etc) in other parts of Japan. A further topic for research!

machiruda said...

I've been wondering about this too. What really hit home when I was in Japan last month was how EVERYTHING needs electricity. Really much more than here in Europe I think (toiletseats, but also loads of other stuff in the house etc). But I saw no signs of anyone consciously thinking about using less electricity - apart from some occassional 'cool biz' posters. Of course, I wasn't there at the height of summer.

It all seems very superficial: saying No to nuclear, but not figuring out how to deal with less electricity. I noticed it on other issues as well (eg, childcare - discussing what good ways of daycare etc are, while not touching on the fact of possibly allowing more flexible working weeks so that parents can share the responsibility for kids; etc). Sigh.

Rurousha said...

Nuclear power is safe, the people who manage it aren’t. Nuclear power is clean, the politicians who run it aren't. I'm not against nuclear power, but I have zero trust in any politician in any country, not just Japan.

Japan can survive without nuclear power, but energy costs will increase exponentially. There seems to be very little effort to reduce energy consumption this year. I really think Tokyoites (let's focus on the city that I know best) are spoiled brats.

Oops. I have to stop fairly abruptly right here, because I have to run to classes. More later! ^^

Cecilia said...

We have a very low tech house - the kind of house that a robber would walk into and say... let's go. But our phone, bath, toilet, water temperature adjuster all use electricity.

(The toilet I haven always had unplugged and we basically don't use the bath.)

Most people in our apartment building have two aircon, many are streaming water by 8am - the earliest I am regularly outside.

I don't know enough about the science of nuclear, but as far as I understand, in theory it should work.

The lies and collaboration and coercion that have gone into building nuclear plants here sickens me. I really dislike the way the city bleeds rural areas. It's true rural areas get subsidies for agriculture, but industries have been centralised in the centres, the trainlines focus on getting people too and from Osaka and Tokyo, pork barrelling has left concrete cancers remains across rural Japan but little in the way of sustainable jobs. Rural politicians are as much to blame as central politicians - there still seems to be a feudal mentality that it's ok to rip off the common guy... but that's not necessarily unique to Japan.