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2009年8月 5日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 3(IHT/Asahi: August 4,2009)
EDITORIAL: Next-generation power

To stem global warming, the world is stepping up its efforts to achieve a low-carbon society. As one important component of that infrastructure, next-generation power transmission networks are attracting attention.

The vagaries of weather can easily affect electricity generation systems that rely on solar and wind power, what with clouds obscuring sunlight and winds dying at nature's whim. Thus, the frequency of electricity generated by such sources tends to be unstable.

There are also concerns that surplus electricity generated by household solar units could "flood" transmission systems, causing voltages to spike.

Because of these problems, Japan's electric power industry is reluctant to integrate a huge amount of power from renewable sources into its transmission systems. Too much too soon could threaten the stability of the power supply, companies say.

Expanding renewable power use, therefore, requires not just policy incentives such as subsidies and systems for the electric companies to purchase surplus power, but also an evolution of the transmission network.

We need an advanced power grid that can deal with a significant increase in renewable power sources. Otherwise, the government-set targets of a 20-fold increase in solar power generation by 2020 and a 40-fold jump by 2030 will be difficult to achieve.

Responding to the challenge, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is starting test development of the next-generation power transmission system. The ministry will spend three years to identify key technological challenges by using power transmission networks on about 10 remote islands in Kyushu and Okinawa Prefecture.

We are pleased the government is taking the first step toward development of a new power transmission system. But the ministry's project seems unlikely to lead to widespread adoption of renewable power.

As part of the tests, for instance, storage batteries will be incorporated into transmission networks to see whether a stable quality of electricity can be maintained.
By and large, the project seems to be aimed at improving the existing power grid. The project's objectives apparently don't include truly epoch-making innovations that can lead to next-generation technology.

It is necessary to think boldly outside the envelope if the nation is to dramatically expand the use of natural power sources.

In Europe, for instance, various countries' power grids are closely interconnected in a structure that makes it easy to absorb changes in frequency and voltage.

Japan needs to create a more innovative system of power transmission, such as a network connecting the existing largely independent grids operated by different power companies.

The United States and Europe are trying to develop next-generation transmission systems that are kinder to the environment.

Such systems will be designed to contribute to energy conservation while promoting renewable energy.

One notable example is the "smart grid" that is the centerpiece of U.S. President Barack Obama's Green New Deal, woven into his administration's economic stimulus package.

The envisioned smart grid would use information technologies to control the power consumption of electric appliances at the user end of electricity distribution to save energy.

The system would automatically switch on and off electric appliances in response to changing electrical charges. It would also make power consumption more efficient through regional interchanges of electricity.
Electric utilities would, for example, remotely control the temperature settings of air conditioners in homes and offices in response to daily changes in the overall supply and demand for electricity.

Such controls would be made possible by smart meters installed in homes and offices that would communicate to the power utilities on a real-time basis information about end-user consumption.

In Japan, the ministry and the power industry are less than eager to work on such a system, claiming the domestic power transmission system is already "smart" enough.

But developing a next-generation power transmission network represents an investment in the future to create new business opportunities in the low-carbon age.

Both the government and the power industry should explore all options with a more flexible view.


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