Tokyo Tower Half Lit Hero

Japanese turn down heat and lights as power cuts loom after quake

Image credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

Tokyo has dimmed its lights and dialled down its heating to save energy and avoid further power cuts, following the earthquake that struck off the nearby coast on Wednesday evening last week.

The magnitude 7.4 earthquake that occurred last week off the north-eastern coast temporarily cut power to about two million households, including hundreds of thousands in Tokyo.

Wednesday's quake occurred in the same region devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which ultimately led to the disastrous meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Wednesday's quake hit six thermal plants, knocking them out of operation in areas served by Tepco and Tohoku Electric Power Co. The damage could leave some of them idle for weeks or even months, according to Koichi Hagiuda, minister of economy, trade and industry (METI).

In Tokyo, neon signs were turned off, the lights dimmed and thermostats dialled down after the government issued an urgent call to save energy, warning of blackouts caused by serious power shortages after the earthquake.

As snow fell in Tokyo and the temperature dropped to 2°C, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said demand had spiked and up to three million households could lose power after 8pm (11:00 GMT) if usage rates did not come down.

"At this rate, we are coming closer to a state where we will have to conduct power outages similar to those that took place after the quake," Hagiuda told a news conference.

He called for an additional 5 per cent of power savings every hour from 3pm to 8pm (local time).

Hirokazu Matsuno, chief cabinet secretary, had earlier called on residents in eastern Japan impacted by the power crisis to do their part. "We request your cooperation… such as by lowering your thermostats to around 20 degrees Celsius and switching off any unnecessary lights," he told a news conference.

Numerous corporate energy users responded to the call. National broadcaster NHK dimmed its studio lights, while electronics retailer Bic Camera turned off about half of the televisions at dozens of its stores.

The 634-metre Tokyo Skytree tower turned off its lights for the whole day for the first time and operators of the city-centre Tokyo Tower (pictured above) lit up only its bottom half.

Retail giant Seven & I Holdings said 8,500 7-Eleven stores set their thermostats to 20°C - one degree cooler than usual - while its Ito-Yokado supermarkets were dimming their lights by 10 per cent.

Nissan Motor said it was using an in-house power generator for 13 hours at its factory north of the capital.

Individual consumers have also stepped up. "I use the heater a lot, so I will try to do my part to save energy," said college student Shuntaro Ishinabe, 22, speaking to Reuters.

Tokyo Blackout Inline

Image credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

Government spokesperson Matsuno said the request to save energy was unlikely to extend beyond Tuesday given the expected rise in temperatures and the addition of more solar power generation as the weather improved.

Japan has faced a tough energy market since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami crippled Tepco's Fukushima plant, causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and leading to the ongoing suspension of operations at most of Japan's nuclear reactors.

With energy prices surging due to tight global supply and the Ukraine crisis, Japan's biggest business lobby, Keidanren, has been calling for a swift restart of the nuclear plants.

"A sudden halt of energy causes a lot of problems and I think [the general public] has really felt the importance of energy security given recent events," said Keidanren chairman Masakazu Tokura.

"Given the larger trend to become carbon neutral and cut back on greenhouse gases, I believe there will be more difficulties unless we restart nuclear power plants swiftly."

Tepco said 100 per cent of power generation capacity was forecast to be used to meet peak demand in its service area between 4pm and 5pm. It had requested seven regional utilities to provide up to 1.42 million kilowatts of electricity to ease the crunch.

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