Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Some English language reports can be found here and here.
At a Massachusetts-Tokyo trade mission event in Tokyo timed to coincide with the announcement, EnerNOC CEO David Brewster indicated that commercial/industrial demand response systems have the potential to shave 10% off of Japan's peak electric energy demand. He noted that further regulatory reform will be needed to change electricity contracts -- and provide for "dispatchable" power -- in order to reap the full benefits.
This kind of demand response technology -- that can shut down demand for literally gigawatts in seconds or minutes -- is "low hanging fruit" for Japan. It can avoid the need for a lot of new centralized generation -- nuclear, coal or otherwise -- and can dramatically ease the implementation of renewables into the electricity grid.
Marubeni seems like an obvious partner for EnerNOC -- they have a long history of involvement with overseas power investments, they have energy trading businesses, and they are familiar with the transition to competitive electricity markets.
Monday, December 9, 2013
The press release issued by Sekisui Chemical (click link) adds detail, and more important, photos of the new battery -- a flexible, film-type, sprayed on product. Wow.
Then a few days later, I see on the Sekisui Chemical website yet another remarkable press release: for a cheap, flexible organic dye-sensitized solar cell produced at room temperature with an 8% conversion efficiency, a world record for this type of cell. This was based upon work done with Japan's National Institute for Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). Again, the company hopes to have a product on the market -- for use in building integrated applications (BIPV) such as office windows -- by 2015.
These are the kind of advances -- that could be on the market in the next few years and represent a significant jump from today -- they are a reason to be very optimistic about Japan's (and the global) energy future, and to wonder whether it is really good value to be spending trillions of yen on trying to restart a portion of the existing nuclear power fleet.
Monday, December 2, 2013
November 8. Tokyo commodities exchange announces a plan for LNG commodities trading market, to support the move away from oil-linked long term pricing structures -- currently over 80% of Japanese LNG is purchased based upon 10~20 year oil-price-linked agreements. This is the first step to a futures market in LNG in Japan.
November 13. TEPCO announces it is considering outsourcing some fuel procurement activities to reduce its LNG acquisition costs.
November 28. Tokyo, Osaka and Toho Gas companies announce support for full retail price liberalization and competitive schemes.
November 28. Japanese shipbuilders have a huge increase in orders for LNG tankers -- 90 ships on order now for delivery by 2020.
November 29. The Tokyo commodities exchange reports negotiations with the CME (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) for a business tie-up in the area of LNG trading.
First Solar acquired Tetrasun earlier this year, a company that has high conversion efficiency traditional crystalline technology -- a good match (at the right price and other factors) for the Japanese rooftop market. They are teaming with JX Nippon Oil for eventual roll out in Japan. And they announced their first smaller project with existing First Solar CdTe thin film modules. The planned total First Solar investment in Japan is $100 million.
UPDATE: In summer 2014, XSOL announced a supply agreement to import and sell First Solar CdTe modules in Japan.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
UPDATE December 2, 2013: Work gets in the way of blogging. My apologies for not following up on this news flash, but I intend to do so ... eventually. At this rate, it may not happen before the year-end break.
Monday, November 11, 2013
So it was a relief to read in Friday (November 8) press reports that TEPCO indeed is planning a further restructuring, as part of the quid pro quo for additional public help with Fukushima.
The restructuring will divide TEPCO's main businesses into 3 subsidiaries under a common holding company -- a fuel and traditional generation company, a transmission company, and a retail company. Such an organizational separation is not contemplated by current Japanese law, but would be permitted under the electricity reform legislation expected to pass the Diet next year with support of the ruling LDP.
Division of utility assets into separate entities under a holding company is not the last step in reorganization, but it is essential. And if implemented it will show the way for Japan's other electric utilities and their financial institutions.
A related announcement involves a plan to eliminate 10 of TEPCO's 80 regional branch offices. Apparently 1000 out of 4000 related jobs would be eliminated, while the remaining employees would be reassigned.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Meanwhile, TEPCO itself has announced a plan to place all of its Fukushima clean-up and decommissioning-related activities into a separate subsidiary. They plan to recruit an outsider to run the operation. The internal reorganization seems a pre-cursor to the government takeover of clean-up responsibility, both financial and operational.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
According to Nikkei, TEPCO's annual outside purchasing is approximately $20 billion per year. It expects to save $1 billion in annual costs once the new structure is in place, over the next 2 fiscal years.
This decision was forced upon TEPCO by its current financial predicament, its government ownership, negotiation with its banks and delays in its nuclear restart. In the absence of such extraordinary factors, TEPCO would not have done it -- since the entire "mura" derives great benefits from the money that leaks out to affiliates, subcontractors, former employees/directors and other friends ... But the system is one reason why Japanese electricity is so expensive, and why it costs 2X or 3X for TEPCO to do something as compared to the cost in Europe or the U.S. The consumers are the victims; the system is not transparent, intentionally. But TEPCO's current crisis is forcing change.
The big question now is will the utilities will take similar measures?
Sunday, October 20, 2013
So it was heartening to read the lead story in Saturday's Nikkei Shimbun touting 700 billion yen ($7 billion) in planned foreign investment in renewable energy, triggered by the Japanese feed-in-tariff that has been in place from July of 2012. The story highlighted a number of different plans from different origins:
1. Australia - Macquarie plan to invest 100 billion yen in solar and wind projects (primarily lease-type financing, I believe).
2. China - GCL Poly Energy targeting 100 billion yen in solar -- both equipment supply and ownership.
3. USA - Goldman Sachs plan to invest 300 billion yen in solar and wind renewables projects over 5 years (primarily third party debt, I believe, with the equity investment much lower).
4. Germany - Photovolt Development Partners (PVDP) of Berlin plan for 90 billion yen of solar projects. (PVDP is a little known developer in Germany that has announced a number of huge projects in Japan, none of which has yet to enter construction).
5. Spain - Gestamp Solar plan for 90 billion yen of solar projects over 3 years.
6. Korea - Hanwha Q-Cells plan to invest 30 billion yen in 2013.
The articles notes that as growth slows for renewables in Europe, Japan has become seen as a very attractive market. Indeed, the feed-in-tariff presents a rare opportunity for foreign investment into Japan, and is one of those rare opportunities for a business to establish a position in the Japanese market in an industry that should be very interesting over the coming decade or more.
The article ends on a mixed note, however, suggesting worries about a solar PV "bubble" in Japan, with comments on the high purchase price under the feed-in-tariff (FIT) for solar PV, even though it was reduced by 10% from the first to second year of the FIT; the fact that consumers will pay a surcharge on their electric bill for renewables; and noting the perceived problems with excess renewable supplies in Germany (after 10 years of a FIT that has resulted in many, many times the installation of solar PV and wind that is likely in Japan over the next few years).
Of course, without the initial generous FIT, Japan would never have "jump started" its renewables businesses in 2012, and never would have attracted such ambitious foreign investment plans. Foreign investment in renewables is essential to modernize the Japanese project development business.
Japanese construction companies look at the FIT as a way to make a killing -- taking a fat margin when their other businesses are suffering. Foreign developers, on the other hand, want to implement projects at as low a cost as possible. This is a matter of self interest, of course, to maximize profit. But it is also a process of transferring know-how, and of generating the cost data that will show, indeed, it is possible to do renewables projects in Japan at a price somewhere in between the "domestic" price level and the "international" price level. Without foreign entrants, Japan's renewables business would have remained stranded in a world full of uncompetitive and anticompetitive practices, dominated by the incumbent utilities and the major construction companies and domestic equipment suppliers.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
On the first day of operation as a Chubu Electric affiliate, 48 wholesale customers switched from TEPCO to Diamond Power.
Chubu Electric has only a 10% reliance upon nuclear generation, and so will face less of a nuclear "ball and chain" than the other utilities. Further, its service area is adjacent to Tokyo geographically. And it has already announced plans for 2 large thermal generating plants in the TEPCO region, one in eastern Shizuoka with Mitsubishi Corporation and Nippon Paper, and the other in Ibaraki with TEPCO. On the other hand, Chubu Electric's home region is just over the dividing line in 60 Hz West Japan, so it cannot readily sell power into the 50 Hz TEPCO region in large volume.
Will competition spread to other parts of Japan, or will the gentlemens' agreement survive elsewhere?
If this is really TEPCO vs the rest of the utilities, then why wouldn't a restructured TEPCO eventually attempt to sell power in other areas of Japan?
Why doesn't Chubu Electric launch a business in Kansai Electric's home territory? Kansai Electric has the HIGHEST degree of nuclear dependence among the major utilities, its territory is also adjacent (to the west) of Chubu, and there is no 50 Hz/60 Hz problem.
Time will tell.
So it was with interest this past week that I read an article in Nikkei regarding a symposium on battery R&D held in Kansai on the 8th and 9th of October. The article discusses the announcement of what are claimed to be major advancements at Osaka University and Kyoto University in so-called multivalent ion batteries.
The battery uses oxide material (酸化物材料) at its positive electrode and magnesium and aluminium at its negative electrode. The battery does not have the problems of lithium ion -- risk of becoming unstable and starting a fire, for example. And it would have a MUCH higher energy density, such that the research teams speculate it would permit an electric vehicle with a greater range than current gasoline-powered vehicles.
The goal is that within five years these batteries would be commercialized to the point where they can be used for residential battery storage for solar PV generated power.
It goes without saying, but there are research programs as well on various new battery technologies, including multivalent ion batteries in the U.S and elsewhere. That said, Japan has shown real leadership in commercializing other battery technologies -- including lithium ion -- and may well get there first in the next major transition.
UPDATE: In 2014, we have seen numerous announcements about vanadium and other redox flow batteries for on and off grid storage with renewable energy projects. These are large systems, lacking the energy density to be used in vehicles, but for energy storage they offer the benefit of nearly unlimited cycles -- with expected lives of 10 years or more. The costs are coming down and there are actually several products on the market. See this later post for more.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
The power companies had collectively decided to roll out these meters over a leisurely schedule of 20 years.
The "growth strategy" released by the government of Prime Minister Abe in June had instead set a much more aggressive target to implement smart meters by the early 2020s.
The scheduling issue apparently came to a head at a METI Energy & Natural Resources Agency meeting in mid-September, where the utilities presented their plans, to great skepticism of other participants. According to Yomiuri, six of the ten regional monopoly utilities have since indicated they will revisit their schedules, including TEPCO and KEPCO, the two largest in the group.
Both TEPCO and KEPCO also have apparently indicated a willingness to permit open bidding for suppliers of smart meters instead of relying upon their existing, uncompetitive "fat and happy" network of related company suppliers.
See our note last year about the Smart Meter Snafu.
UPDATE: According to the October 28, 2013 Nikkei, TEPCO has further accelerated its schedule and will have "smart meters" installed in its entire service area by 2020. According to the article at least one U.S. based "venture company" intends to offer demand management service starting in July of 2014. TEPCO will start installing the meters from April 2014, and according to its former plan was aiming for 1.9 million in FY2014, 3.2 million in FY2015 and a total of 27 million by 2023. This will be accelerated. Kansai Electric has been faster in its roll out, but TEPCO will catch up and exceed Kansai quickly at this pace.
More than 95% of the newly installed capacity is solar PV -- no surprise given the comparative difficulty of siting, permitting and building other types of renewables in Japan. Of the new capacity, 1.379GW is residential solar PV, and 2.12GW is commercial/utility scale, so-called "mega" solar installations.
The 3.5GW of new solar far exceeded METI's plan for 2.0GW installations. Wind power, on the other hand, barely shows up as a blip on the radar. Siting of major wind farms takes a very long time in Japan, and NIMBY opposition makes it nearly impossible.
The 3.5GW of installed solar is only a small fraction of the 22GW that has been METI "certified" solar PV. The bulk of the to-be-built projects are mega solar. Even if many of those projects are never built due to issues with land rights, land use approvals, utility interconnection and/or financing, a portion of the 22GW will be build, and yet further project will be certified. It should be easy to exceed 3.5GW of newly installed solar PV in Japan during July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014.
Many sources indicate that the new renewables capacity is equivalent to "3 nuclear power plants". That is not quite accurate. There is no technical reason that a nuclear plant with 1GW generating capacity should not operate 80% or more of the time. The U.S. nuclear reactor "fleet" operates at higher than 85% load factor (capacity utilization). In fact, prior to March 11, 2011, Japanese nuclear plants had a very low average load factor -- more like 60%. Solar facilities, on the other hand, operate at or near their rating peak capacity for only a few hours a day, so have only 10-12% of the annual kWh generation of a 24x7 plant operating at full capacity. When this discount is applied, 3.5GW of solar PV installation is closer to one half of a Japanese nuclear reactor.)
|The Toyota Prius Plug in Hybrid version. Rated at 61 kpl of gasoline (143 mpg)|
And of course the Japanese manufacturers first made in-roads into the U.S. market by having a fuel economy advantage over Detroit and its big "gas guzzlers".
Of course, Japanese conditions are not so different from some parts of Europe -- expensive gas and tolls, limited parking. But the Japanese "Galapagos" industry structure has seen the automobile market evolve in a very different way than Europe -- for example, Japan has almost no diesel passenger cars, much more like the U.S. than Europe. Only in very recent years has Mazda implemented a "clean diesel" version of its CX-5 SUV, and Nissan its X-Trail SUV. Volkswagen is present in the Japanese market, ... but does not try to market its diesel TDI engines.
And of course, Japan has been the leader in introducing hybrid gas/electric vehicles, with Toyota and Honda very much in the lead in commercializing these technologies.
And within the past few years, MANY new Japanese cars now feature the "idling stop", with engines turning off and restarting automatically at intersections.
Another feature of the Japanese market is the widespread role of "kei" cars -- light cars with less than 1000cc displacement engines and meeting other requirements. They are recognizable by their yellow license plates. The kei cars are assigned significantly lower automobile taxes -- an incentive that foreign manufacturers have often complained about, since their models do not meet the requirements, and the requirements do not relate directly to fuel economy. Japanese car companies such as Daihatsu or Suzuki are known primarily for their kei cars. The major companies also have a large number of choices of kei models.
And, of course, there are a few electric-only cars in Japan, notably the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MIEV. To date these have only limited presence (range anxiety), despite efforts to implement networks of charging stations and despite the relatively short distances of average urban Japanese auto trips.
And just as in other markets, the government currently offers substantial incentives -- cash rebate, tax reduction, etc. -- for "eco cars" that meet fuel efficiency, emission and other requirements.
How far has Japan gone toward a post-modern, fuel efficient automobile fleet?
A few commonly available statistics should help:
In FY2012, approximately 40% of Toyota's Japanese passenger car sales were of hybrid gas/electric models. For the first six months of the current fiscal year (April to September 2013) period, the top selling car models in Japan were:
1. Toyota Aqua subcompact hybrid. 127,993 units. Rated* at 35.4 km/L (83.26 mpg equivalent)
2. Toyota Prius compact hybrid. 121,634 units. Rated at 30.4 to 34.6 km/L (71.5 to 76.7 mpg)
3. Honda N Box kei car. 110,155 units. Rated at up to 24.2 km/L (56.9 mpg) with a small (less than 1000cc) advanced gasoline engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT). List price from around 1.36 million yen (~$14,000).
4. Daihatsu Move kei car. 107,591 units. Rated at up to 29 km/L (68.2 mpg) with an advanced gasoline engine, CVT and list price between $10000 and $12500.
5. Suzuki Wagon R kei car. 88,071 units. Rated at 30km/L (70.5 mpg) with an advanced gasoline engine and, of course, idling stop (which kicks in when the car slows to under 13 kph). Suzuki also heavily promotes its regenerative braking -- the car battery is charged largely by recapture of braking forces. Even without a hybrid powertrain, mileage goes up when all the electronics, including A/C, get power from recaptured brake energy.
If these are the best selling cars in Japan, then imagine what the entire fleet's fuel economy will look like in 5-10 years time!
*Of course, the fuel economy ratings (using "JC08" mode--more conservative than "JC10/JC15" modes used in the past) are based on assumptions and do not necessarily prove out in real driving conditions. I rented a Toyota Aqua hybrid this summer and drove it mostly on expressways, including some long climbs and descents and generally at speeds of 100 kph or so with A/C on for two days, and ended up with mileage of just under 25 km/L (58 mpg).
After leading the market with its near-experimental Honda Insight in the 1990s, Honda has trailed Toyota in the hybrid "race" in recent years, as it used a "weak" style hybrid in its Civic Hybrid and 2010 Insight (introduced around the same time as, and upstaged by, a new version of the Toyota Prius that had better fuel economy).
|1990s Honda Insight|
|2010 Honda Insight|
|Honda Accord hybrid - now with 30 km/L hybrid version|
|Honda Fit -- 36.4 km/L hybrid version available|
The plug-in Prius will drive the initial 26 kms using only its electric engine, and so actual gas mileage can be infinite if you never drive further than that. It is rated at 61 km/L using JC08 mode. (If that is not good enough for you, the plug-in hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander, an SUV-like model, if fully charged will go the first 60 km on its electric engine, and is rated at 67 km/L overall (not on the best seller list, but the family of one of Misako's friends has one).
|Toyota hybrid models|
|Toyota's Lexus mark hybrid modeles|
Nissan's line-up includes a dizzying mix of "eco cars", including the all electric Leaf, several hybrids, the 25 km/liter "eco supercharger" equipped Nissan Note.
Even Subaru now has a hybrid version of its SV "all wheel drive" small SUV. Going from the regular 2.0L engine to the hybrid model boosts rated mileage from 15.8 km/L to 20 km/L (47 mpg).
Of course, there are some imported cars and foreign makes in Japan. Mercedes Benz, BMW, and VW/Audi are doing well. Then again, the Mercedes closest to me (my next door neighbor) is one of these -- a Daimler/Mercedes Benz group Smart all-electric two seat car, with a 180 km range (measured in JC08 mode, more like 140 kms based on US/European measurements).
So even if Japan trails Europe in wind, solar and other renewables, its automobile companies are doing their part at the transition to a green energy future.
Monday, September 30, 2013
The METI electricity system reform subcommittee's working group on "system design" held its second meeting on September 19, 2013. According to materials presented by the ministry at that meeting, retailers of electricity will be subject to a registration (rather than a full approval/license) system.
The registration will allow for greater new entrants than approval/license system, but will still allow for the ministry to sanction retailers who fail to perform their contracts with customers. In contrast, companies wishing to engage in transmission business will need to apply for licenses and go through a more rigorous approval process.
Retail competition is targeted for residential and small commercial users in 2016. Prices will remain regulated for some 5-7 years until 2020-22, in order to protect consumers. There is a lot more detail (in Japanese, of course) in these proposals to work through -- essential reading for anyone trying to understand what is being planned.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Thursday, September 26, 2013
UPDATE: One day after this post, the Niigata government has given TEPCO its "conditional" support for TEPCO to at least proceed with filing its application with respect to K-K reactors 6 and 7. The prefecture has apparently taken the view that this is not a "final" approval, which will be subject to satisfaction on various safety issues, but only a nod to allow TEPCO to make its filing.
By Friday, the group of all major (and some minor) Japanese banks that faced an upcoming TEPCO refinancing had indicated that, given the restart application for K-K reactors 6 & 7, they would NOT require TEPCO to file for a rate increase and, at least tentatively, that they plan to participate in the refinancing.
On Saturday, the 28th, TEPCO's President was interviewed by Nikkei Shimbun and stated that, in light of the prospect that these reactors might be operating in 2014, TEPCO plans to announce a restructuring plan later this year that would not include further rate increases, and hopes to avoid a loss for the fiscal year that ends March 31, 2014.
A look at TEPCO's implementation of its current restructuring plan does not offer high hopes.
The current plan had proposed restarting K-K reactors 6 & 7 by April, 2013, six months ago. It also contemplated decommissioning only Fukushima Dai-ichi Reactors 1 through 4, whereas now 5 and 6 also must be decommissioned. Now, TEPCO hopes to squeeze out additional 10-year cost reductions of 140 billion yen, following its current plan of 336 billion yen in reductions. And TEPCO also plans to establish an arm to participate in deregulated portions of the electricity market, as Chubu Electric and Kansai Electric also have announced. Maybe TEPCO will be able to reduce customer outflow if it "counterattacks" in the home regions of other utilities?
We should know before too long if the hope for a profit in the current TEPCO fiscal year is more "happy talk" to support Abenomics and improve the economic mood--a thank you present for well-orchestrated government support to bring Niigata's governor and the financial institutions into line for the time being--or if it can actually be achieved (and, if so, whether it involves the same kind of accounting magic that limited the last two years' losses to 700 billion yen).
UPDATE: Reuters had a good article today (October 7, 2013) on the TEPCO turnaround effort -- the public relations and the reality. As one analyst indicates, "it's all kabuki ... It's very much an orchestrated presentation". I hope my blog post gives some sense of the way these things are done in Japan, at least at the public level.
Also the Yomiuri mentions that the LDP is now seriously considering a "good bank bad bank" approach to TEPCO, hiving off the legacy problem of decommissioning its reactors and dealing with the Fukushima mess. Since TEPCO does not have the resources to deal with its legacy issues, this is perhaps inevitable. But if and only if it is done in a manner that ensures the "good TEPCO" will move forward faithfully to implement a competitive market in electricity, including separation of generation, transmission and distribution.