社説:電力体制改革 送電網開放で分散型へ

(Mainichi Japan) August 4, 2011
Japan should free up electricity distribution network in reforms to power system
社説:電力体制改革 送電網開放で分散型へ

In Japan there were hardly any power cuts.

The power voltage and frequency was stable, and people could use as much electricity as they wanted.

Then the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear crisis hit the nation.

In the wake of the disaster, nuclear power plants were brought to a stop one after another, and despite the full mobilization of thermal power stations, requests to conserve power arose not only in eastern Japan, which suffered the brunt of the disaster, but also in western Japan.

To flexibly respond to this situation, and to reduce dependence on nuclear power plants and boost the supply of renewable energy such as solar and wind power, revision of Japan's power system is now needed.


In the wake of the disaster, it has been suggested that the tasks of generating and distributing power in Japan -- now handled entirely by the nation's power companies -- should be split up.

The crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has exposed various problems faced by the power companies, which hold monopolies over various regions.

The argument that drastic reform can only come about by splitting up power generation and distribution is understandable.

However, implementation of such changes is no easy task.

It will not do any good to strap the nation to a lofty goal only to run aground.

A realistic approach is needed.

The reason the current power system has been maintained is that liberalization of the power market that began in the 1990s has not taken full force.

It is a different story with liberalization of the communications market, where new entries have progressed a great deal while NTT remains united under a holding company.

Surely a sensible idea would be to examine why liberalization of the power market has not progressed in the same way as liberalization in the communications market, and revise Japan's power system.

Of course, before any such reform takes place, the issue of ownership and operation of nuclear power plants must be settled.

Clearly a power company cannot handle the risks of a nuclear accident by itself.

It has been suggested that power plants be made separate and the government take control of them in the form of a public corporation, for example.

This issue must quickly be resolved.

Liberalization of the power market has led to the formation of a power producer and supplier system under which newly generated power -- such as the surplus from home solar systems -- can be sold through a power company's distribution network. (この部分英訳抜け多し^^)

But due to various limitations, the share held by power providers under this system remains low.

Furthermore, power companies have been reluctant to introduce solar and wind power generation on the grounds that it is costly to produce and could result in a lower quality of electricity.

The way power is used depends on the economic entity involved, be it a household or a company.

Entities that generate their own power can sell power they do not use.

If it became easy to find users who would purchase this power, then it would be possible to limit the number of power facilities in society as a whole.

It was hoped that liberalization of the power market would greatly facilitate this, but that hasn't been the case.

Investment in power generation facilities could be further curbed by switching consumption to off-peak periods to level out demand.

Overcoming the frequency barrier that exists between power companies in eastern and western Japan could also boost electricity exchanges between the companies that produce it.

If it became possible to find suppliers and users who can meet each other's needs over a wider area and more newcomers entered the market, then we could expect lower electricity prices through competition.


If the introduction of a fixed-price purchasing system for electric power generated with renewable energy -- which has not been viewed as unstable and difficult to introduce on a large scale -- could be viewed as one wheel of a vehicle, then greater electricity exchanges between power companies is another.

It is important that both wheels be set in motion.

Japan should proceed with revisions to its power system while considering a model of local production for local consumption.

It cannot be denied that the separation of the generation and delivery of power is an important point of discussion.

But it would mean that power suppliers, which are private companies, be asked to donate their assets, creating the problem of how to compensate the power companies.

Furthermore, it is possible that responsibility now imposed on power companies to supply power, which has contributed to securing a stable source, could become vague if the generation and distribution of power were separated.

In handling revisions to the power system, a useful reference can be found in NTT's opening of its phone network.  電力体制の見直しにあたって参考となるのが、NTTの電話網の開放だろう。

Other phone carriers can use NTT's network under the same conditions as NTT, and when they do, strict rules are laid out.

Checks are performed to see whether these rules are being kept, and there is an arbitration system to solve problems.

While there was no splitting up of phone networks in the liberalization of the phone market, the opening of the NTT's network enabled users to freely choose which carrier they used.

Perhaps such a model could be taken into account when opening up Japan's electricity distribution network.

To boost market functionality that connects providers and buyers, diversification of services provided by the Japan Electric Power Exchange is needed.

But rather than implementing such measures, if these measures encourage new power businesses to enter the market, then it should become possible to secure a diverse supply of electricity, including renewable energy, and enhance the efficiency of power generation facilities.

We call for the points of discussion that formerly emerged in the liberalization of the power market to be revisited in light of the nuclear crisis to bring about revisions to Japan's power system.

毎日新聞 2011年8月4日 東京朝刊

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