Huge battery to ease grid connection woes as Japan’s utilities angle for nuclear restart

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Kyushu Electric, the Japanese utility which last year temporarily suspended new grid applications for large-scale solar, sparking a wave of similar suspensions by other utilities, will install a huge battery project aimed at integrating a higher capacity of renewable energy generation.

The company last week confirmed reports that it will install a 50MW/300MWh electric battery storage system at a power station in Fukuoka Prefecture. Like the rest of Japan’s 10 regional utility companies, Kyushu Electric is responsible for the grid network in its service area as well as electricity sales. 

The utility is based on the southern island of Kyushu, which since the inception of Japan’s feed-in tariff (FiT) in 2012 was a preferred location for many solar project developers due to its high levels of solar irradiance. In October last year, Kyushu Electric became the first of five Japanese utilities to suspend new applications for grid connection, citing supply and demand imbalances and other grid issues. The issue has had a serious knock-on effect for the country's solar industry.

As of December, Kyushu Electric Power said, around 8.17GW of solar projects had been approved in its service area. Government efforts to calculate how much solar could still be approved across the service areas of the five utilities that suspended applications resolved that around 51GW of capacity remains across the network, but at local level the issues are more acute in some areas than others. 

Kyushu Electric says it wants to establish a stable power supply and for the continuing smooth introduction of renewable energy facilities. The new battery system will be co-located at an oil-fired power station, Buzen. Work on it is expected to begin this year and to be finished during FY2016. Funding for it will come from the state Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), with vendor details, technology type and technical specifications not revealed. 

However, the news comes as Japan’s utilities push for the restart of nuclear power facilities, amid a backdrop of legal battles and public debate. On 16 April, Kyushu Electric Power put out its own report forecasting electricity supply and demand in the region, claiming there will be a severe shortfall without nuclear. 

This week, Kyushu Electric Power also revealed that its electricity sales by volume in FY2014 were down 3.8% from the previous financial year. General demand for electricity fell by 4.9%, attributed in part to a cooler summer requiring less air conditioning. 

Elsewhere, some news outlets have reported that Tohoku Electric Power, the utility responsible for the northeastern area of Japan’s main island Honshu, will undertake a similar battery storage project to Kyushu. The reports come a month after Tohoku published its ‘Electricity Supply Plan for Fiscal Year 2015’,  in which the utility said it still planned to construct the Higashidori 2 nuclear power station. The utility has not been able to provide a timeframe for this project. Tohoku’s service area includes the power plants at Fukushima. 

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