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Kyushu Electric likely to seek 1st halt to solar, wind power production to avoid blackout

A solar farm is seen in Itoshima, Fukuoka Prefecture, on the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu. (Mainichi/Takashi Kamiiriki)

FUKUOKA -- Kyushu Electric Power Co. announced on Oct. 11 it will likely request a temporary halt to solar and wind power generation by other companies to avoid a large-scale blackout on Oct. 13 and 14, taking the first move of this kind in Japan except for remote islands.

The move comes as growing renewable and nuclear power generation in the southern Japan region of Kyushu may tip the balance of electricity supply and demand and cause power outages over wide areas. The company says they may not proceed with the request depending on the weather.

According to Kyushu Electric, the request would target some 24,000 solar and roughly 60 wind power generators using the utility's grid. The exact extent of the production suspension request is not yet finalized.

Kyushu Electric chose those two days because the weather forecast for the entire Kyushu region is mild, and the demand for air conditioning would be low. As those days fall on the weekend, many factories are expected to either stop or slow down their operations, pushing down the demand further and likely disrupting the balance between electricity supply and demand.

The power utility will make a decision about the suspension request by the evening of the previous day and convey it by email or telephone to certain power producers, who will be required to suspend operations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Government rules allow for such a request when the power supply exceeds the demand and power utilities need to avoid a widespread blackout.

Kyushu, with its long sunlight hours and cheap land prices, is one area that has seen expansion in solar power generation since 2012, when the so-called feed-in tariff (FIT) system was introduced in Japan. The system is designed to support renewable energy production by fixing the price of electricity produced by solar, wind, geothermal or other natural resources.

As of the end of August, 8.07 million kilowatts of electricity -- equivalent to the combined capacity of eight average-sized nuclear reactors -- was produced by solar power generation in Kyushu alone, more than 10 times the output at the end of fiscal 2011 before the introduction of the FIT system. The region's power generation capacity is still growing. Four reactors at the Sendai and Genkai nuclear power stations came back online in August, producing up to 4.14 million kilowatts of electricity in total.

In response to the rise in solar power generation, Kyushu Electric has adjusted the supply and demand balance by reducing thermal electricity production and other methods. This has required difficult fine-tuning because solar power generation levels often fluctuate depending on the weather.

Surplus electricity from renewable energy production in Kyushu was distributed to five major power utilities in Japan for the first time on Oct. 1. However, this measure is apparently not enough to avoid the possibility of a major blackout. Kyushu Electric is still left with a power supply-demand imbalance, prompting the need for the production suspension request.

(Japanese original by Taiki Asakawa, Kyushu Business News Department)

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