As the Tokyo Electric Company continues rolling blackouts and electric users try to reduce energy consumption, the question becomes: Why is Japan short of electricity?
The easy answer is that nearly 20% of the operating nuclear power plants in Japan are shut down, due to the earthquake and the tsunami. The more complex answer involves the convoluted history of electrical power in Japan and the Japanese electrical grid.
Perhaps alone among modern nations, Japan has a divided electrical grid. South of Tokyo, the grid operates on a 60 hz frequency. From Tokyo northward, the grid operates at a frequency of 50 hz.
In simple terms, the electricity in half the country cannot be used in the other half. Trying to do so would result in damage, electrical fires and other related mayhem. Tokyo is in the region that has all of the shut down reactors and is suffering the lack of generation capacity.
The Tokyo Electric Company introduced electricity to Japan in the late 1800′s. It bought its equipment from Germany. Other electric providers bought from the U.S., from General Electric, and that is why the separation developed. There are only four points where the electricity is converted from one frequency to the other, and their capacity is severely limited in comparison to the current need.
For more information on this topic:
The Japanese Electrical Grid: A Major Problem for Economic Recovery
A Country Divided: Japan’s Electric Bottleneck
The Japanese Situation
Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan