Why Japan has two separate electricity systems

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Japan is the only country in the world with two separate electricity systems, which meant that during the Fukushima nuclear disaster, surplu...

Japan is the only country in the world with two separate electricity systems, which meant that during the Fukushima nuclear disaster, surplus power from Osaka couldn't be transferred to Tokyo, causing blackouts. Here is why there are two systems in the first place.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

Map showing which part of Japan uses 50/60 hertz (click to enlarge and download)
Download map showing electricity partition: svg format | png format
With the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants wiping out 40% of electricity generating capacity in eastern Japan, even proud cities such as Tokyo have suffered rolling blackouts and are plunged into darkness after nightfall. But isn't the solution a simple rerouting of energy from the east of Japan to the west?

Unfortunately it's not that simple. While the entire country uses 100 volts, the electric current in Eastern Japan (including Tokyo, Yokohama, Hokkaido and Tohoku) uses 50 Hertz, while the West (including Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Kyushu and Hiroshima) uses 60 Hertz.

I asked the question to J-POWER when I visited them, and was told that the origins of difference in hertz stretches back over a hundred years back to the late 1800s, which stemmed from the traditional rivalry between Osaka and Tokyo. While Tokyo obtained their first electricity generation equipment from AEG of Germany, Osaka not wanting to have to follow their rivals in the East, decided to purchase from General Electric. German equipment generated at 50 hertz while American equipment output 60 hertz.

Although there are transformer facilities linking the two areas, it has a maximum capacity of only 1 gigawatt - a far cry from the 60 gigawatts that east Japan can normally generate.

While back then it was a matter of regional pride, now West Japan can only look on as Eastern Japan turns off the lights everyday.

Map source: http://english.freemap.jp/

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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: Why Japan has two separate electricity systems
Why Japan has two separate electricity systems
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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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