After the Mach 11 earthquake and tsunami shut down a large number of power plants in Japan, rolling blackouts were instated in large parts of the country. Lack of power emerges more and more as the biggest impediment to a quick recovery.of the Japanese automotive industry. Most of the industry has been shut down. Power will remain scarce for many months in Japan. Come summer and A/C time, the situation will be worse. Japanese automakers are now considering running their factories in rotation to help cut the industry’s electricity consumption, The Nikkei [sub] writes today. Japan’s automakers could prepare for a production loss of well over a million units for the year.
The blackouts, which usually last three hours per day, take a big hit on plant efficiency. Metal-casting, for instance, is heavily affected. Smelting ovens need to be cleared and emptied before the shutdown and need a lot of time to come back up once power is restored. A three hour blackout often results in a nine hour downtime.
Rather than having power outages every day, the manufacturers want to secure stable electricity supplies for their factories in exchange for cutting the overall power consumption by rotating production. Under the plan, whole factories would be shut down on certain days of the week. Automakers will meet at the office of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) to come up with a rotation schedule.
Now run the numbers. If a car company works only 5 days instead of 6 a week, that translates into a reduction of output of 17 percent. If the plan will remain in effect for the whole year, Japan could lose 1.3 million cars by the end of the year. Extra shifts would be out of the question, because that would negate the whole idea of power savings.
The 1.3 million number may sound sensationalist, but it is conservative. “Lost production in the two weeks since an earthquake and tsunami struck northeast Japan tops a third of a million vehicles,” writes Reuters, “and it could be months, rather than weeks, before the country’s automakers get back on track.” If more than 330,000 vehicles remained unmade in just two weeks, it does not take huge math skills to estimate the damage caused by the loss of power alone.
According to an energy brief by The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, “a power shortage is definitely anticipated for the summer cooling demand season as well as next winter.” The Tohoku and Tokyo power companies have lost approximately 15 percent of their capacity for “a longer duration.”
Likewise, approximately 14 percent of the Japanese refining capacity is lost and needs “to be repaired over a longer time,” says the energy brief. Large parts of petrochemical production are reported destroyed by earthquake and fire. “Recovery is considered to take time,” says the report.