Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Japan's Electric Power Grid Can't Cope Because the Networks Don't Match Up!

In my most recent blogpost, I noted the importance of electric power generation and distribution networks and their reliability.

IEEE Spectrum, in a very illuminating article, notes that parts of Japan, following the triple disaster there, have to now deal with rolling blackouts (this, in addition to the displacement of people, the destruction of the infrastructure in the affected areas, plus radiation in some of the food, water, air, and soil). This dire situation is expected to continue for months.

Ironically, parts of Japan can generate sufficient electric power to overcome the unmet demand in the general Tokyo area and eastern parts, but, according to the article:

TEPCO’s supply situation would look less grim were it not for a quirky split that divides Japan’s power grids in half: While Tokyo and the rest of eastern Japan run on 50-hertz electricity, the big cities southwest of Tokyo and the rest of the country run on alternating current that cycles at 60 Hz. It’s a historical accident from the 19th century, when Tokyo’s electrical entrepreneurs installed 50-Hz generators mainly from Germany, while their counterparts in Osaka selected 60-Hz equipment from the United States. The result is a national grid whose two halves cannot directly exchange AC power, which limits TEPCO’s ability to seek help from the 56 percent of Japan’s power-generating capacity that lies to the west.

"It’s a shame. The western grids can supply a lot. I think they could cover [TEPCO’s] peak demand," says Kent Hora, executive vice president for Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, the U.S. arm of Japanese power-engineering giant Mitsubishi Electric.

Personally, this reminds me of areas of the world where the railroad tracks are of different gauges and, hence, trains can't continue moving from one network to another.

There is a discussion in the article about the potential of new transmission lines being built but also that some of the citizens are saying NotInMyBackYard, which certainly complicates matters!