Energy supply the near-term problem for Japanese PV supply chain

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The initial reports from a key number of PV manufacturers and suppliers highlighted that little damage to manufacturing operations occurred as a result of the massive earthquake last Friday. However, concern is now focused on the shortage of electricity that affects approximately 45 million people in Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) service area covering Tokyo, Tochigi, Gunma, Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama and Yamanashi prefectures.

TEPCO said that its service area would be divided into 5 zones and would need to suspend electricity supply for several hours each day to each zone on a rolling basis.

However, Tokyo is being sparred cuts at the moment as central government, company headquarters and financial institutions are heavily located in the capital city.

The Japanese Government has urged the country to conserve energy for the time being, which was also followed by major industries, resulting in plant closures across the country.

With TEPCO suffering from acute energy transmission shortages due to the shutdown of nuclear reactors along the east coast region of the country, the utility said that rolling blackouts would more than likely remain in place through to the end of April.

However, other power providers such as Tohoku Electric Power Co did not expect to implement blackouts, though it would be constantly evaluating the situation.

A prolonged disruption to power supplies would be expected to disrupt PV manufacturers output over the coming months, though with many in central and southern regions, disruptions could be minimal.

The problem will focus on those suppliers that do become impacted by TEPCO’s rolling blackouts, which would be expected to reduce capacity output during this period and could impact customers in other regions in their ability to continue full production.

In the case of previous major earthquakes in industrialized nations, such as Taiwan, which saw replacement equipment parts and materials hold back a return to full production, long after power supplies were restored.

Thermal processes such as ingot production depends on highly reliable power supplies as the processes have long cycle times. Despite planned blackouts, production would be severely limited or completely curtailed until full restoration of power. 

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