Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Japan Power

Legacy From the 1800s Leaves Tokyo In the Dark 322

itwbennett writes "East Japan entered its fifth day of power rationing on Friday, with no end to the planned blackouts in sight. The local electrical utility can't make up the shortfall by importing power from another region, though, because Japan lacks a national power grid, a consequence of a decision made in the late 1800s."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Legacy From the 1800s Leaves Tokyo In the Dark

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 18, 2011 @01:56PM (#35533348)

    Dark (and hopefully) clear skies...

    • by rtaylor ( 70602 )

      The ground is still a little wobbly at times.

    • by nido ( 102070 ) <nido56 AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:55PM (#35534368) Homepage

      If the USS Ronald Reagan had a couple Mighty Pumps in its inventory, these could be attached to the catapult steam lines. An electrical generator could be attached to the pump's drive shaft, generating power. Then they'd just run a cable to the shore to power the cities affected by the disaster.

      The USS Enterprise [] has 310 megawatts of thermal power. I don't know how much of this could be sent to the catapult lines... Nimitz-class carriers [] have 2 reactors instead of 8, and generate ~190 MW of thermal power.

      There is some historical legacy for using an aircraft carrier to power a city:

      ... Each of Lexington’s four electrical generators could produce 35,200 kilowatts. All together, the generators were powerful enough to fulfill the electricity requirements of a decent sized city. And, for 30 days that is exactly what she did. ...

      -When USS Lexington Powered A City []

      Lots of people have found my site this week (/. post on Sunday [], google, etc), and the link about the MYT engine was one of the more-commonly followed links. This page has better information about the MYT pump/engine:

      The MYT [Massive Yet Tiny] Engine as a pump/compressor purportedly exceeds existing pumps/compressors in providing massive pressure, volume, and flow -- all in one unit. This attribute makes it ideal for geothermal energy, among many other such applications.

      -Angel Labs eyes geothermal for MYT Engine application []

      When Disaster Strikes, Send the Enterprise []. I just did my first newspaper interview this morning. :)

      • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @03:30PM (#35534880)

        The reactors at Fukushima generate over 3,000MW of power, and that's not the only plant that's offline. Maybe if you had 10 aircraft carriers, 3GW of generators and these magic MYT Engines (or at least conventional turbines) *and* some place to plug them in that would be a viable solution. Oh, and the vast majority of an aircraft carrier's steam output goes to the turbines that drive the props - how will you get that steam up above the water line to your generators? Maybe you can just jack up the back of the carrier out of the water and connect the generators to the prop shafts. Then you "only" need to find a generator that runs at prop shaft speed or a gearbox to convert the speed.

        • by nido ( 102070 )

          If you don't have a tool you can't use it for anything.

          It took most of a week to get new backup generators to those power plants. Shouldn't the Navy have some portable power plants, to help with disaster response? I suppose these shouldn't all be attached to the large ships, as they wouldn't want to tie up the Ronald Reagan next to the leaking nuclear power plant...

          • by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes@[ ] ['xms' in gap]> on Friday March 18, 2011 @04:37PM (#35535834)

            The most compact nuclear power plants around (naval units used in submarines) weigh about 1000 tons. These use highly enriched uranium, so they would be seen as a security risk.
            Containerizing this unit would mean at least 50 40-ft containers (with each container at its maximum weight), you probably need more because most containers won't reach this density. That would give something like 80 MW. Considering that a 20-ft container can hold at least a 1-MW diesel generator with its fuel supply, having a containerized nuclear reactor would seem to hold little advantage over diesel gensets.

            There's also the problem that you really want the reactor vessel and the primary coolant loop as one unit, since you can't easily disconnect these once the reactor has been active and has irradiated the primary loop.
            Now the reactor vessel alone is larger than a standard container. You'd end up with a very large and heavy undivisible central unit.

            You'd be better off leaving the reactor on a ship and just running a cable ashore. For smaller power needs, existing containerized diesel gensets are a good solution.

        • Perhaps there's not enough juice to go around for all the coffee makers, discotheques, and big-screen televisions.

          OTOH, I'm pretty sure that 300 MWp is plenty to power a few hospitals, food distribution areas, and some command/coordination centers. Probably have enough power left over to maybe keep some radios, and perhaps a light bulb or two going so that folks in shelters can get some light and news.

        • by mikael ( 484 )

          How about some mobile nuclear reactors, or as Wired titled an article:

          In Soviet Union, nuclear reactors finds you! []

          Russian mobile nuclear reactors []

          There are Power station ships [], but given the power requirements of Japan, they would need 30 of these.

          Though it looks like the future is going to be Modular nuclear reactors, which are smaller than the conventional 3 GigaWatt reactor, but can be strung together and transported by container.

      • by dj245 ( 732906 )
        This article is from []. Free registration is required for most articles, paid registration required for others. My company has a subscription. My company (a major turbine manufacturer) is also helping to bring the 20GW of lost generation back online. We are also frantically bringing mothballed hydro, coal, and other resources online since some of the coal plants were damaged in the earthquake. Even if you could hookup ships to the Japanese grid, it is a drop in the bucket.

        Tohoku El
  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Friday March 18, 2011 @01:58PM (#35533404) Journal

    Half of Japan used 50Hz and the other side uses 60Hz. They have three conversion stations with a combined capacity of just 1GW, so power from one side can't power the other.

  • I'll bet ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @01:59PM (#35533420)

    ... this situation changes. And Japan will leap to the forefront of HVDC transmission gear manufacturing.

  • by wandazulu ( 265281 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:02PM (#35533470) many to choose from.

    • The other beauty is standard entrenchment. Australia a land of 240V nominal power decided in the 80s to align with the European standard of 230V. In order to not break anything they simply redefined 240V +/- 5% to be 230V +10% -5%. End result is my wall currently measures 244V 20 years after our "switch" to 230V.
    • Hehe ... electricity as a relatively early technological development (i.e. invented before international standards bodies were as well established as they are now) is a perfect example of what happens when each country (or in Japan's case, even separate regions within a country) is free to roll out whatever system they prefer. In a way, it's surprising that we didn't end up with more variation. Most countries are 50 or 60 Hz, ~110-120V or ~230-240V, but it could have ended up worse with places using all kin

  • Japan uses NTSC, which is based on 60 hertz. How does it work in East Japan's 50 hertz zone? Hmmm.

    I guess this also means electronic manufacturers have to design their products to work with either 50 or 60 hertz.

    • by localroger ( 258128 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:06PM (#35533572) Homepage
      TV's don't sync to the power line. They convert incoming power to DC then work from that.
      • by stox ( 131684 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:43PM (#35534164) Homepage

        TV's used to sync to the power line until well into the 1960's. The tolerances needed for color put an end to that,

      • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @03:05PM (#35534508)

        >>>TV's don't sync to the power line. They convert incoming power to DC then work from that.

        That is so horribly wrong. "The NTSC field refresh frequency in the black-and-white system originally exactly matched the nominal 60 Hz frequency of alternating current power used in the United States. Matching the field refresh rate to the power source avoided intermodulation (also called beating), which produces rolling bars on the screen......

        "Synchronization of the refresh rate to the power incidentally helped kinescope cameras record early live television broadcasts, as it was very simple to synchronize a film camera to capture one frame of video on each film frame by using the alternating current frequency to set the speed of the synchronous AC motor-drive camera.....

        "The actual figure of 525 lines was chosen as a consequence of the limitations of the vacuum-tube-based technologies of the day. In early TV systems, a master voltage-controlled oscillator was run at twice the horizontal line frequency, and this frequency was divided down by the number of lines used (in this case 525) to give the field frequency (60 Hz in this case). This frequency was then compared with the 60 Hz power-line frequency and any discrepancy corrected by adjusting the frequency of the master oscillator." - wiki

  • by Iphtashu Fitz ( 263795 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:04PM (#35533530)
    Very interesting article. I had no idea that Japan was effectively split in half thanks to 50Hz and 60Hz power grids. So does every home that is hooked up to 50Hz have a converter to switch it to 60Hz or vice versa since some electronic devices are rather dependent on the AC frequency? What happens when somebody decides to move across the country from one power source to the other? Do you just throw out all your old clocks that relied on the AC frequency for its timing source and buy new ones? I also wonder if the disaster unfolding there might encourage them to try to migrate the entire country to a single standard, whether 50 or 60. It has certainly demonstrated a major problem with their current infrastructure...
    • Other than poorly designed clocks, what other devices actually care about the power line frequency? My parents in Virginia have very bad 60Hz power, they have a few clocks that are often off by 10 minutes or more each way, so it's not a good idea to base your clock frequency source on the power line in the first place. Most devices not either don't care (light bulbs) or put their power through an AC/DC conversion step anyway. So what would really need to be thrown out if you switched from 50Hz to 60Hz stand
      • by xleeko ( 551231 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:22PM (#35533830)

        Other than poorly designed clocks, what other devices actually care about the power line frequency?

        Motors. Big motors, like the kind you find in your furnace, A/C compressor, elevators, and other places. Nobody cares about the consumer electronics because all that stuff either auto-ranges or can be manually switched. But big industrial equipment is everywhere and lasts a long time.

        • The motors I deal with in my job (manufacturing automation) are all DC motors and stepper motors driven by controllers which are performing an AC/DC conversion, so this is only a problem with constant speed AC motors. But granted, climate control is a HUGE installed base.
          • When I worked in an oil warehouse, all of our portable pumps were AC. Granted, most of them had speed control modules because at full snort they would either a) make a gigantic splashing mess with light viscosity oil, or b) throw breakers like they were going out of style while pushing the high viscosity stuff. :)

          • Climate control (at least for commercial HVAC) is a relative non-issue as well. Every motor I've seen installed lately is happy at either frequency - for that matter, we put lots of them on variable-speed drives which varies the frequency and voltage all over the place. Only extremely old motors might have issues.

            So all that really happens is the motor speeds up/down a bit (depending on who converts their system) which is handily fixed - if you even need to - as most large air handling equipment is belt-d

      • by ericpi ( 780324 )

        Other than poorly designed clocks, what other devices actually care about the power line frequency?

        Actually, mains power should normally be a very good frequency source for a clock. Utilities periodically adjust the frequency such that the long term clock drift is near zero. From wikipedia []:

        Network operators will regulate the daily average frequency so that clocks stay within a few seconds of correct time. In practice the nominal frequency is raised or lowered by a specific percentage to maintain synchronization. Over the course of a day, the average frequency is maintained at the nominal value within a few hundred parts per million.

      • Most devices not either don't care (light bulbs) or put their power through an AC/DC conversion step anyway. So what would really need to be thrown out if you switched

        Umm that AC/DC coversion does not exactly handwave the difference in 50 or 60 hertz current so it might actually matter.

        hint after you run it down your bridge rectifier coming out of your cap filter your ripple will be
        (dc load current)/120|100*capacitance

        and some thing may not be able to handle that much ripple

      • Other than poorly designed clocks, what other devices actually care about the power line frequency?

        Poorly designed? In the UK, power line frequency is very tightly controlled and fluctuations are corrected for during the night, so clocks that were synchronous to the power were very accurate. The problem isn't the clocks, its the power generation. Also, sotting in my garage, I have an old turntable, with a synchronous motor. Again, any frequency error is far less than one's ability to distinguish from th

    • by Intron ( 870560 )

      US gear is very much 60Hz, 110V. But electronics in Europe and Asia tends to be more flexible.

    • For kicks pick any 5 power bricks and look at the label. I bet most of them will say 100-240V, 50-60hz. Will work in most of the world if you have a simple plug adapter, no need for a voltage or frequency change.

    • by JanneM ( 7445 )

      Many things, such as lights, don't care.

      Most modern built-in power converters and supplies can handle pretty much anything - if you look at the power brick for your computer, chances are it says "100-240V, 50-60Hz". It's expensive to run separate production lines, so companies have tried to make stuff as universal as possible.

      Older things here in Japan often have a small switch at the back, marked "50/60". You set it according to where you live.

  • Free Market (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:11PM (#35533672) Homepage

    FTA: "Japan's electricity system got its start in 1883 with the founding of Tokyo Electric Light Co. Demand quickly grew and in 1895 the company bought electricity generation equipment from Germany's AEG. In west Japan the same evolution was taking place, and Osaka Electric Lamp imported equipment from General Electric."

    Wait: I thought the free market solved all problems and never needed government intervention.

    • Wait: I thought the free market solved all problems and never needed government intervention.

      You seem to have a stunning amount of faith in government, including 1800's feudal Japan, to accurately plan for catastrophes 130 years in advance.

      • I think the point was about the needless division of the country into 50Hz and 60Hz zones, thus inhibiting the growth of an efficient nation-wide power grid.

      • by dwye ( 1127395 )

        You seem to have a stunning amount of faith in government, including 1800's feudal Japan, to accurately plan for catastrophes 130 years in advance.

        1890's Japan was very well post-feudal. Remember, it was only ten years after they bought the incompatible GE equipment (I should make a nasty comment here, since my family worked for Westinghouse) to where they defeating the Russians in 1905.

        Also, this dual grid prevents countrywide cascade failures :-)

        • Re:Free Market (Score:5, Informative)

          by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @03:24PM (#35534802) Homepage Journal
          However east and west Japan were still relatively independent even in the 1890s. It wasn't really until after the Russo-Japanese war that the country really started to become just that, a unified country. Humans have this odd way of thinking about countries, namely that the government/political structures and geographical boundaries of countries today are the same as they were over 100 years ago, they are often much different. Japan was very much like Germany, essentially a very loosely affiliated set of states bound by geographical, linguistic, and cultural ties but often separated by bitter political and military rivalries. I doubt that even if someone had the foresight to force both sides to use the same standards they would have had the political capital to make it a reality. That sort of political capital didn't really exist until after the Russo-Japanese war towards the end of the Meiji era.
      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Well, how about the Reagan administration decision to leave the choice of cell transmission system up to the free market? I'm not saying there were *no* advantages to doing things that way, but net I don't think it produced such great results.

    • by jsrjsr ( 658966 )
      To know that, we'd have to know if the Japanese government got involved and locked in the choices before the market had a chance to correct it. After all, until the two systems met it didn't matter what frequencies they used.
    • Wait: I thought the free market solved all problems and never needed government intervention.

      The Free Market *WOULD* solve all these problems, if it weren't for all that pesky government intervention.

      There are few activities so strongly regulated anywhere as the electric power industry. I should know it, for the first five years of my career as an electronics engineer I worked for a power company.

      The situation is so bad that when people say the power industry has been "deregulated" somewhere, like in California, for example, the industry is actually still more regulated than any other industry.


  • by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:14PM (#35533722)
    Tachi Station sells power converters.
  • The US has mostly unconnected power grids too.
    Two major and three minor grids, the grid I'm on, Alaska isn't connected to anything else. [] - has more information []

    But theres a plan to connect the Eastern and Western Interconnections at Clovis NM in the next couple years.

  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Friday March 18, 2011 @02:49PM (#35534264) Homepage
    In the 1800's, Japan was just practicing eXtreme Engineering (XE) and employing the principle of YAGNI. It was deemed more important to electrify the country and then iterate the solution later, than it was to design for future expansion, let alone consider the risks of human life dependence upon the early choices.
  • by Ecks ( 52930 )
    Japan needs a Dagen H for electricity. []
  • Usually when a Japanese power plant is shut down, it has a serious pest control problem. The best solution is to send in the first cyberpunk-looking teenage kid you see with no help whatsoever. You don't need to pay them, they have to do it because the only way to get where they're headed is through the power plant.

  • The 50/60 Hz split posed a problem for air conditioner manufacturers in Japan. Their solution was frequency-converting air conditioners that would work on either 50 Hz or 60 Hz. When they were first being installed it was not noticed that their characteristics over their range of operating voltages were not the same as conventional air conditioners.

    The problem became clear on a hot summer day in the late 1980's. TEPCO was importing power to the Tokyo area from nuclear plants a considerable distance away. Long distance transmission of electricity requires reactive power to maintain voltage at the receiving end. The frequency-converting air conditioners increased the need for reactive power in the Tokyo area.

    In early afternoon, TEPCO ran out of reactive power and the voltage collapsed, causing a major blackout. It was the first major blackout that happened without some kind of event such as a lightning strike or a piece of equipment failing.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant