News from Japan highlights the fact that it’s no good investing heavily in renewables without sorting out grid capacity as well.
It may seem a surprise that Japan’s electricity grid isn’t the best in the world, but the creaking connections between different grid companies’ service areas are limiting the number of utility-scale solar installations that can be built. For instance, in Hokkaido, 1.6 GW of PV installations sized 2MW and above have applied for grid connections. This is four times as much as the local grid can handle, because there is only one 600MW connection between Hokkaido’s grid and neighbouring Tohoku and Niigata prefecture.
The Tohoku region was hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, resulting in Tohoku Electric restarting a previously mothballed natural gas and oil fired power plant. Of all the regions in Japan, Tohoku could really use an injection of sunshine.
However, instead of focusing on improving grid interconnectivity, the Japanese are instead commissioning huge new power storage facilities to ease the gridlock. The increased investment by names like Toshiba and Sumitomo in utility scale storage mean a huge leap forward in battery storage technology, part of the value chain which has lagged behind in recent years.