The government started restricting electricity consumption by large-lot users Friday in eastern and northeastern Japan to avert power shortages amid the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Photo: Satoko Kawasaki
Juice supply: People at JR Shinagawa Station in Tokyo on Friday walk beneath electric signboards displaying information about power consumption in the Kanto region as well as details of the supply capacity of Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Under the nation's first mandatory power-saving drive since the 1973 oil crisis, large-lot users in the service areas of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. are required to reduce electricity consumption by 15 percent from a year earlier during peak usage hours on weekdays.
Those who intentionally violate the restriction face fines of up to ¥1 million.
Industry minister Banri Kaieda also called on households to cooperate, saying at a news conference, "We ask people in each household to save electricity."
Industries and households are under pressure to curtail electric usage this summer to avoid triggering blackouts if demand exceeds reduced power generation capacity in regions damaged by the March disasters.
The government has asked small-lot users and households to voluntarily cut electricity consumption, also by 15 percent, by working out power-saving plans involving such steps as curtailing the use of air conditioners and unnecessary lighting.
However, Kaieda warned against an excessive cut in the use of air conditioning as that could bring on heatstroke.
The power-saving requirement has led numbers of major companies, including Sony Corp. and the Tokyo Stock Exchange Group Inc., to bring forward the start of the business day by one hour.
Sony also moved up by one hour the end of normal working hours to 5 p.m. and began to turn off air conditioning at its headquarters at 6 p.m. to compel its employees to go home.
A 34-year-old female employee of the electronics giant, who has a 1-year-old boy, welcomed the move. "There is a mood in the entire company that we should all go home early, so things are easier for people who need to balance work and child-raising," she said.
Given corporate moves to bring forward the start of the business day, railways plan to add trains in the early morning. East Japan Railway Co., however, has been operating 200 fewer runs per day in the Tokyo metropolitan area since June 24 to save electricity.
The power-saving restriction is in effect between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays through Sept. 22 in Tepco's service area and Sept. 9 in Tohoku Electric's. Large-lot users are required to report their power usage to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry four times during the period.
Hospitals that provide emergency treatment and shelters for evacuees from the March 11 quake and tsunami are exempted, while the reduction target will be relaxed to up to 10 percent for medical, nursing careand transportation service providers.
Power-saving efforts were also going on in the disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region.
Fujisaki department store in Sendai reduced lighting at the store and set the air conditioning to a higher-than-usual 28 degrees. Tohoku Bank, a regional lender in Iwate Prefecture, has cut the number of operating automated teller machines at its 48 outlets.
At major consumer electronics retailers in the city of Fukushima, fans were mostly sold out after consumers rushed to buy them as substitutes for air conditioners to save electricity.
Energy-saving efforts also started in the Kansai region surrounding Osaka, where Kansai Electric Power Co. has asked households and firms in its service area to voluntarily cut power consumption by around 15 percent through Sept. 22 due to the suspension of operations at its nuclear reactors.
Some public facilities in the region have decided to raise preset temperatures of air conditioners or turn them off during certain times of the day.
Power cuts unlikely
Tokyo Electric Power Co. is expected to be able to supply enough power for the projected maximum demand this summer, making power-saving efforts vital to avoid rolling blackouts, the utility said Friday.
According to Tepco, the maximum demand from July 16 to Sept. 2 is projected to reach 55 million kw, while supply capacity is 55.5 million kw to 56.8 million kw during the same period.
Although sufficient supply is expected to be secured, "the maximum reserved capacity is just about 1.8 million kw, so it will still be a difficult road," said Tepco Vice President Takashi Fujimoto.