Front Lines of Thermal Power Generation
Where Electricity Is Born for Our Everyday Life.
23 August 2023
Ichihara City and Futtsu City in Chiba Prefecture face Tokyo Bay. Both cities are home to JERA's world-class thermal power stations. The Anesaki Thermal Power Station has the world's most advanced equipment, and the Futtsu Thermal Power Station has the largest LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal in Japan. Ayako Tanaka, a soprano singer active on the world stage, toured these two locations as the JERA ambassador. She took a close look at the front lines of thermal power generation supporting the daily life of Japan.
Anesaki Thermal Power Station; Being Reborn with State-of-the-Art Equipment
June 7, 2023. The first place I headed to was the Anesaki Thermal Power Station. Thermal power plants are not familiar to many people. For me, it was the first time to visit there myself. However, the power shortage in the Tokyo metropolitan area has been a frequent concern for the past few years. The Anesaki Station has been supporting the situation on the brink. With summer approaching and demand increasing for electric power, the Station is attracting a great deal of attention again this year.
The Anesaki Station was established in 1967. I am deeply moved when I think of this place, which has been supporting Japanese life with electric power for more than half a century before I was born. Over its long history, it has evolved to become more efficient and environmentally friendly. In 2023, with the introduction of three new power generation facilities, the plant is about to be reborn as a state-of-the-art power station.
Mr. Kamei, the station manager, told me the following.
“The Anesaki Thermal Power Station had power generation facilities from Units 1 to 6, but due to aging, the decision was made to decommission Units 1 to 4 in 2021. Units 5 and 6 will be idled in preparation for higher power demand in summer and winter and other unforeseen circumstances. On the other hand, three new facilities have been introduced, and new Units 1 and 2 are currently in operation. The new Unit 3 is scheduled to start operation in August 2023.”
The replacement will also greatly improve the amount of power generated per unit and the efficiency of power generation. What six facilities used to provide will now be sufficient with only three. This is a major evolution in power generation equipment.
The New Turbines Power 1.85 Million Households with Improved Environmental Performance
The new Unit 1, which just started operation in February 2023, was in the middle of generating electricity, making gurgling noises when I visited. The sound of the turbine echoing through the building easily drowned out our voices, and without loudspeakers, we could hardly hear other persons' voices! I had no idea that generating electricity could be so brave and powerful.
Mr. Saga, the deputy station manager, referred to the state-of-the-art gas turbine, as the centerpiece of the new Unit 1.
“This turbine can generate 650 MW, enough to power approximately 1.85 million households. In addition to the higher power generation efficiency than conventional ones, this turbine can reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 30%. The same type of turbines has been installed in the new Units 2 and 3, and the Anesaki Station has evolved greatly.”
At the same time, the Station's old generation facilities, Units 5 and 6, are still in place and stand idle this year in preparation for power shortages in summer and winter. In a vast space where not a single sound could be heard, I found a huge blue facility. That was the turbine of Unit 5 according to Mr. Kamei, the station manager.
“It is a mechanical turbine and is quite old. As you can see, it is a gigantic piece of equipment with a lot of parts, many of which are no longer available. There is no craftsperson to make them anymore.”
That means if it breaks down, we may not be able to fix it despite the possibility of another shortage of electricity. “Our staff with specialized skills perform meticulous maintenance daily so that we can safely restart operations, when necessary," says Mr. Kamei. One can only hope that the day does not come when the roar of the turbines will once again echo through this quiet building.
The Brain of the Power Sation Is Turning from Analog to Digital
The power station has a central operation room for operating and monitoring the power generation equipment 24 hours a day. I was guided to the central operation rooms for Units 5 and 6 where I found control panels of various sizes arranged all over the walls. They looked like the background of a good old sci-fi movie or an installation art in a modern museum!
“The central operation rooms in Units 5 and 6 are all analog operated. Although there are many panels and switches, they are designed to make it easy to grasp the status of the equipment and prevent maloperation. The new Unit 1 has the latest digital controls, and we hope you can see the difference.”
So told Mr. Kamei, and how has the central operation room of the new Unit 1 evolved from the older ones. Is it a larger room with more machines? With my imagination running wild, I was led to a room that at first glance looked like an ordinary office. Mr. Saga, the deputy manager, pointed to an area where several monitors were neatly arranged.
“This is the latest digitalized central operation room. All equipment status checks and operations are performed on these screens. In just this small space, we can handle more information than the central operation rooms of Units 5 and 6. The only physical button here is one for emergency stop.”
This is why Anesaki Station is called "DPP (Digital Power Station)", the world's most advanced digital station. Its evolution is not just about getting bigger. I realized once again that a simpler and more compact design with improved functionality and operability is also a form of evolution.
Elimination of the Useless and Refinement Create Beauty
After looking around the various facilities at the Anesaki Station, the last thing that caught my eye was the piping that crawled along the outer wall of the buildings. When I murmured, "That's very artistic," Mr. Saga replied as following.
“I am glad to hear you say so. However, we were not conscious of the beauty of the appearance but rather the result of considering efficient installation on a limited site and ease of maintenance.”
Thank you, Mr. Saga, but I believe that the result of pursuing an important point is beautiful, and that is the highest form of art. The beauty of what remains after eliminating the useless is also true in the world of music, where I am based.
Futtsu Thermal Power Station, One of the Largest in the World, is also a Huge LNG Terminal
After comparing old and new facilities at the Anesaki Thermal Power Station and experiencing the dynamic evolution of thermal power stations, I visited the Futtsu Thermal Power Station in Futtsu City, Chiba Prefecture. The Station started operation in 1986 and is one of the largest thermal power stations in the world, with 21 generators in 4 systems, capable of generating 51.6 MW in total.
The Power Station and One of the Largest LNG Terminals in Japan
The key point of this tour was that the power station is also an LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminal. On the west side of the site, there are 12 underground tanks and a berth, which can receive large volumes of LNG brought in by huge vessels.
Mr. Kawamura, the station manager explained.
“Natural gas can be liquefied by cooling it to minus 160°C, which is called liquefied natural gas (LNG). By turning it into a liquid, the volume can be reduced to 1/600th, which can drastically improve the transportation and storage efficiency.”
As we drove through the vast grounds listening to his words, we looked out the window and saw a large light green object.
“This bowl-lid-like object is part of a huge LNG tank. Only a small portion of the tank is above ground. Most of them are buried underground.”
A vast space, many times larger than this exposed part on the ground, is spread out at my feet! I could understand it in my head by looking at the diagram, but I couldn't really feel it...... That was how gigantic the scale of the LNG tank was.
Boarding a Huge LNG Tanker!
An LNG tanker was at the pier, and we were given a special tour of the vessel. Even many of the staff who have worked at the Futtsu Thermal Power Station for many years have never been on a tanker. I was filled with gratitude for having such a valuable opportunity.
The vessel brought LNG from Australia to the Futtsu Station in eight days. At about 300 meters long, the tanker is as huge as a luxury cruise ship, and the closer you get to it, the more overwhelmed you are by its size. The big difference, however, is that most of the space inside the vessel is occupied by LNG tanks.
When I arrived at the berth, transferring LNG from the tanker to the tanks in the base had just begun: LNG is transferred through a white pipe called an "unloading arm" that extends from the berth to the ship. It takes 24 hours to transfer all four tanks of LNG loaded on the ship! It is an operation that takes a whole day.
On board, the captain took me to the wheelhouse to introduce me to the various facilities, including the engines, radar, and maps. We then went to the highest deck of the ship. From there, I had a panoramic view of the pure white LNG tanks on the tanker and even the LNG tank area inside the power station, and the word "wow ......" kept coming out of my mouth.
With excitement at the fact that I was having such a precious experience and that I would never normally be able to see such a view, I got off the ship to finish my tours of the Anesaki and Futtsu Thermal Power Stations.
What is the Most Important? JERA Keeps on Seeking the Answers
It was the first time in my life that I visited thermal power plants, and everything I saw and experienced was very fresh and exciting. Neither the Anesaki nor the Futtsu Thermal Power Station gave me the impression of clutter, but rather a kind of art. The shape and arrangement of all the facilities and equipment had reasons why they had to be that way, and I think that is why I could feel the beauty in them.
With various talks at the Stations, I felt that JERA places great importance on essential aspects. That is "to provide a stable supply of electric power." I agree that this is an attitude that must be valued in artistic activities as well, as it is important to solve problems by firmly grasping the points that need to be emphasized. And I clearly see that JERA is doing its utmost to do what needs to be done now and continues to evolve thermal power generation in Japan toward the future that it is aiming for.
JERA is now trying to achieve zero-emission thermal power generation that emits no carbon dioxide. It is true that there are many challenges out there. However, thermal power generation cannot remain as it is today forever. To realize a sustainable society and to continue to provide a stable energy supply forever, JERA will continue to move forward without stopping its evolutionary steps.
CEO, Japan Association for Music Education Program
At the age of 18, Tanaka traveled to Vienna alone to study. At 22, she made her debut at the Stadttheater Bern in Switzerland, becoming the youngest soloist ever in the theater and the first Japanese person to perform there. Since then, she has performed in Vienna, London, Paris, Buenos Aires, and many other cities worldwide. Her premiere concert of „Five Circle Songs for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra“ composed for her voice by Esteban Benzecry, was chosen the Best World Premiere Piece by the Argentine Music Critic Association. The album received five stars from the BBC Music Magazine, the world's best-selling classical music magazine.
Tanaka is also engaged in giving back to society through activities such as the SCL International Youth Music Festival held in Vienna with the support of UNESCO and the Austrian government to assist young performers, as well as the National Youth Orchestra of Argentina, which was established with the support of the Argentine government to provide education to young people of various backgrounds and family situations through music.
Tanaka was named one of Newsweek's "100 Most Respected Japanese in the World" in 2019. She sang the Japanese national anthem on October 22 at the opening ceremony of the SMBC Nippon Series 2022. Born in Kyoto, Tanaka lives and works in Vienna.
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