Thursday, 14 July 2011

A future without fire... for Chubu Denryoku?

The local electricity supplier, Chubu Denryoku, sent a note to us about reducing our electricity consumption over the summer. They are especially worried about the period from July to September, and between 1pm and 4pm. Apparently around half of domestic electricity consumption is used on air conditioning. They suggest five things people can do:

1. Set the air conditioner to 28 degrees. People usually set it to 18, which is the lowest setting available.

2. Change the filter once or twice a month. This will make it run more efficiently. I suspect a lot of people never change the filter, instead waiting for the air conditioner to break, then they get a new one.

3. Use bamboo or rush mats on windows to keep the heat of the sun out.

4. Use a fan as well as, or instead of the air conditioner.

5. Don't leave stuff around the external unit of the air conditioner. 

They could also add shutting windows, which makes air conditioners more efficient as they just cool down the room rather then the broader environment.

More important still, they could mention INSULATION... 

While these requests for customers to reduce consumption of their product are admirable, they don't seem very interested in increasing the demand of energy. I went to ask them about connecting the panels on my house, and although they were not obstructive, they were certainly in no hurry to get them connected as soon as possible, for example at the beginning of July before this hot summer with its closed nuclear power stations and record cases of heat stroke, rather than in October after it has finished. I got the impression that they didn't really want to connect the solar panels at all.

On the wall outside their Matsumoto office, they have a hoarding advertising All Denka, or all-electric. At the top it says something about a future life without fire, promoting Eco-cute atmospheric heat pumps for hot water, IH cookers, and electric storage heaters. 

The picture is a mountain hut somewhere up in the mountains above Matsumoto. I struggle to find any connection between this and domestic electricity use. I'm quite sure it's heated with paraffin space heaters, or more likely abandoned in the winter when the roads are closed. In fact it looks like a perfect site for solar power, or wind. 

How about this picture of one of your eleven gas-fired power station? What was the expression... "no smoke without fire"...

I know Chubu Electric has 17 hydroelectric, and there is one nuclear power station that is having a rest at the moment. But according to this document from 2010, the gas-fired have a total rating of 23,900 megawatts, the hydro electric 5,300 MW and the nuclear 3,500 MW. They have a "new energy" 新エネルギー powerplant at Omaezaki, which produces 6 MW. That's 
Gas: 73%
Hydro electric: 17%
Nuclear: 11%
"new energy": 0.02%

I'm trying to work out exactly what the Omaezaki "new energy" plant is. Usually Google takes me to the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, which is, perhaps by some bizarre coincidence, in Omaezaki. The "new energy" hall is part of the visitors' centre at Hamaoka. There seems to be a 2.2 MW wind farm, turbines standing proud along the windswept beach. Perhaps used more as a kind of garnish next to Hamaoka, in much the same way that someone on a diet orders a salad and a diet coke, to go with the steak and chips. 

But it's easy to criticise. Putting into perspective this 6 MWatt "New Energy" plant, relating to 0.02% of their total capacity, my solar roof will have 9.12 KWatts, roughly 650 times smaller. This is the biggest rooftop array that the panel fitters had ever made. Most are around 4 or 5, less than one thousandth of the "New Energy" plant, which in turn is less than one five thousandth of Chubu electric's total capacity. 

A lot of their capacity is to meet peak demand. The gas and nuclear power stations are either on or off, so they need some way of storing extra energy when it is not being used, and supply it when it is needed, and hydro electric works well at this. 

They are also working on the hundred-year-old system of massive power production and long distance power transmission. This goes back to the  war of the currents between Edison and Telsa in the 1880s. Ultimately won by Telsa and Westinghouse. 

Other people in Japan are talking about smart grids, where electricity is generated on a smaller scale, and used or stored in a more dynamic way to reduce consumption.  If Chubu Electric doesn't start thinking about this, it's likely to see people switching off from the grid in a few years when solar panels have halved in price again, and batteries have become cheaper and more efficient.