Saturday 2 July 2011

Electricity Cuts

It's Friday, July 1st. A sweltering hot day and the first day of restrictions on electricity because of all the closed nuclear plants. Businesses whose peak usage is over 500 kW have to cut that peak by 15% between the hours of 9 am and 8 pm or face a maximum fine of 1 million yen (7,700 GBP). Hospitals are exempt and the rules are relaxed for makers of semi-conductors. Small businesses and homes are expected to cut consumption by 15% voluntarily.

Personally I think it's a bit rich that Fukushima is subject to these restrictions. After all, nobody's living in Namie, Tomioka, Oguma and the other places near Fukushima Daiichi so usage in the prefecture as a whole must be 15% down this year.

Our company's peak last year was 437 kW so we're not subject to the new restrictions but we've been instructed by Rengo head office to do what we can and we've submitted our targets to Tohoku Electric. I've been trying to get people to cut electricity usage for years from the point of view of global warming but without success. This time, they've come up will all sorts of ideas. In addition to the usual measures like switching off lights and removing fluorescent light tubes, they're staggering use of the different machines where possible, shift working over lunch time, doing the clearing (which in our factory means using air hoses) once the machine has stopped for set up between lots, and doing the crushing and baling of waste paper after the other machines have stopped. Ideas which would have been rejected a year ago as 'impossible' are now being implemented. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

I mention that it's Friday as the car industry has decided to work weekends and take Thursday and Friday off. This is an interesting experiment. Shopping centres are looking forward to more trade on weekdays but some parents are having difficulty finding nurseries to take their offspring at the weekends. Shops and restaurants near the closed factories are obviously losing business. Other companies in Tokyo are getting staff in early in the morning and sending them home at 1 pm before the afternoon peak. Young fathers seeing their kids during the week! This is far reaching social change.

Every night we're told how much electricity is available for the next day and throughout the day we're told how far off the peak we are. Today everybody cooperated and Tokyo was 81% off the peak. If it reaches 97% there'll be warnings and if it gets to 99% there'll be power cuts the next day.

Spent the day visiting customers, introducing the new CEO. Everywhere we went the lights are dimmed, coolers either off or on high temperatures. Zenno, the agricultural federation seem to think that fruit and veg production is back on track after the late start. We lost the month of May but hopefully the season will extend into September this year. Cherries for market doing well but nobody is visiting  'pick-your-own' tourist cherry farms. Peaches on track. (Fukushima is a big producer of white peaches, second after Yamanashi prefecture) though demand in the gift market is down due to the general economic malaise. We heard the same complaint from everyone we visited. The disaster produced special demand in the form of emergency goods, repairs to buildings etc. but that is disappearing and it's not clear yet if anything's going to take its place. Lots of uncertainty.

For those of you who're interested here are the words you hear all the time now. First, the word for cutting electricity usage, setsuden 節電. People are saying it's going to be a summer for cutting power: setsuden no natsu 節電の夏. Then the word for a power cut is  teiden 停電.

I haven't switched the cooler on once yet this season but it's pretty hot in here and hard to think. It's gone midnight. Tempting. Maybe just for ten minutes .....
But first a very goodnight to you all

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