Energy Crisis Management

-Following the 2011 Natural Disaster in Japan

Any industrialized society is dependent of a stable supply of energy. With electricity being the primary high quality energy carrier, this translates into the need of a stable electricity supply system. On 11 March 2011, the fourth most powerful earthquake since 1900, followed by a powerful tsunami hit Japan, the third largest economy in the world. (USGS 2012) Over 15 800 lives were lost, major infrastructure was destroyed, and society was sent into a state of temporary shock. The power supply system also took a major blow; both thermal power and nuclear power station operations were disrupted. Most notably the triple core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station resulted in the second worst civil nuclear accident in history after Chernobyl.

The aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake resulted in a severe unbalance between electricity supply and demand. The Fukushima Nuclear accident uncovered profound faults in the safety culture of nuclear power in Japan, leading to at one stage all of Japans 50 nuclear power plants (54, including four now-decommissioned reactors at Fukushima Daiichi) being taken off the grid due to the lack of societal trust in their secure operation.

With demand for electricity being highest in summer, due to cooling of houses, Japan has now the built up experience of two summers after the crisis. What lessons can be learned?

Some learning may pertain only to Japan, others are generic, of relevance to any industrialized society struck by a sudden supply-demand unbalance:

  • Methods to disseminate information, such as well visualized supply forecast and realtime supply and demand balance and methods of communicating the information to the general public was handled well in Japan.
  • Incentives provided to the consumers for saving electricity “not only in a hurry”, but through habitual and lifestyle changes was seen as of major importance.
  • Innovation to accelerate diffusion of energy saving products, technologies and services could be noted. Whilst with great suffering economically, the measures the companies took were not just of conservation nature, some were innovative also leading to improved efficiency in the future, and may give competitive edge.

What mistakes can Sweden learn from?

  • Lack of clear responsibility and line of communication between the parties involved such as the government, energy agency and electric power companies caused much confusion. Better risk communication should have been prepared for between different stakeholders.

In addition to assessing the situation as simply a policy learning experience, there are opportunities for Sweden to contribute to the development of a new energy system in Japan, both in terms of providing policy knowledge, as well as in new businesses. There are now discussions on a de-bundling of the electricity grid system. Additionally, the feedin-tariff starting 1 July 2012 is a tailwind of momentum for increased renewable energy sources.

Energy Crisis Management -Following the 2011 Natural Disaster in Japan

Serial number: WP/PM 2012:15

Reference number: 2011/227

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