Japan’s surging electricity prices are a warning for Asian countries

” Households across Japan are likely to get hit by massive electric bills this month, after the price of wholesale electricity there spiked from about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour in December to an unprecedented peak of more than $1 on Jan. 7. ”

“The spike was partially a pandemic-related anomaly. But it was also an ominous sign of things to come for Asian countries working to curb their carbon footprints.

The immediate cause of the spike was bad weather. Japan was hit by an unseasonable cold spell, sending electricity demand in some regions to 10-year highs as homes and businesses cranked up electric heating systems. That in turn caused a sudden shortage of natural gas, which provides 20% of the country’s power and is entirely imported in liquid form (LNG) on ships. Despite the demand, several of Japan’s biggest utilities were forced to roll back power plant production, as the price of gas more than quadrupled from the beginning of December, hitting levels 1,000% higher than the record lows seen during pandemic lockdowns in May. A similar story played out in China and South Korea, turning the gas crunch into a regional issue.

The timing couldn’t have been worse: LNG was already tight as export facilities in several of the countries that normally supply it to Asia—particularly Australia, Qatar, Malaysia, and Indonesia—had experienced an unusual cluster of concurring outages in the preceding months.”

“as more Asian economies put more of their eggs in the LNG basket, they become increasingly exposed to sudden wild price swings. Supply disruptions in LNG exporting countries appear likely to continue in the near future as the global economy recovers from the pandemic”

“Part of the solution, Tsafos said, is for the Asian LNG market to embrace more steady, long-term contracts rather than the on-demand purchases that are the norm today. Delivering gas by ship on demand, instead of by a fixed pipeline, allows buyers and sellers more flexibility in theory, but becomes a problem when too many buyers are clamoring for the same shipment. Asian countries also need a better network for managing the regional flow of LNG, and will have to continue investing in alternative clean energy systems, including renewables and grid-scale energy storage, he said.
“There’s no real point, if you’re aiming for decarbonization, to go for an expensive, volatile fuel like gas,” Robertson said. “You’re better off looking at alternatives, and that’s the conclusion a lot of these countries will come to.””

Japan’s new prime minister has just one year to save the country from crisis

“As of October 21, Japan — a country of around 127 million people — had more than 90,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 1,600 deaths. That’s not bad compared to much of the world, but the pandemic caused the nation’s economy to shrink by around 28 percent between April and June, the largest contraction since the country started keeping records in 1980.

That’s bad news on its own, but Japan was already dealing with a years-long economic slump due in part to an aging workforce. It’s a trend Suga’s keenly aware he must reverse, and doing so starts with minimizing the virus’s spread. “Reviving the economy remains the top priority of the administration,” Suga told reporters just after becoming prime minister on September 16.”

Abe plan for land-attack counterpunch could mark major military shift for Japan

“Months before he announced his resignation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set in motion a policy change that could for the first time allow Japan’s military to plan for strikes on land targets in China and other parts of Asia.

Japan’s Self Defence Forces are geared toward stopping attackers in the air and the sea. The policy change would direct the military to create a doctrine for targeting enemy sites on land – a mission that would require the purchase of long-range weapons such as cruise missiles.

If adopted by the next government, the policy would mark one of the most significant shifts in Japan’s military stance since the end of World War Two. It reflects Abe’s longstanding push for a more robust military and Tokyo’s deepening concern about Chinese influence in the region.

The Japanese government is worried by China’s increased military activity around disputed East China Sea islets.”

Why Japan’s gender gap is set to shrink

“During the 1980s, most 18-year-old girls went from school to two-year “junior colleges” (with a heavy emphasis on home economics), rather than to the four-year university courses favoured by their male contemporaries. So among the generation now at the sort of age—typically 50-55—from which companies and other organisations pick their leaders, there are few women to choose from.”

“this changed during the 1990s, as families and the girls themselves decided that they too deserved a full four-year university education. Moreover, fewer professional women now decide, or are forced, to leave their jobs when they get married or have children (and the marriage rate itself has declined), so the drop-out rate has fallen. The pipeline of potential female leaders is increasing every year.
Will they be chosen? Certainly, too few companies, especially the big and famous ones, have altered their promotion and staff-deployment practices sufficiently to become family-friendly. The gender gap in admission to the best public universities, including Tokyo and Kyoto, from which top organisations recruit, remains wide. Nevertheless, many organisations have changed their ways, out of sheer necessity: with Japan’s population ageing and declining every year, there are not enough trained and experienced men to hog all the managerial jobs any longer.

“Diversity” has become a buzzword. Spending on child-care facilities, to make it easier to retain mid-career female staff, has climbed. Soon a critical mass of female managers will be in place, sufficient to change corporate procedures and cultures for their successors, as has happened in Europe and America.”