South Koreans head for the pools during record heat wave across Asia in August 2013. Photo: AFP

14 August 2013 (Bloomberg) – Record temperatures across North Asia have killed dozens and pushed electricity grids to near breaking point, forcing governments to introduce emergency measures as more of the same heat is forecast.

Air-conditioning in South Korea's public buildings has been shut off as the government Monday warned of power shortages. China has opened air-raid shelters as makeshift cooling stations, while thousands in Japan have been hospitalised for heatstroke.

“We are in a critical situation where, if any single power generator goes wrong, we will have to resort to rolling blackouts just like we did in 2011,” Yoon Sang Jick, South Korea's minister of trade, industry and energy, said in a speech.

Shanghai hit a record 40.8 degrees celsius on August 7, according to the meteorological bureau, as the city endured its hottest summer in 140 years. In southern Japan, temperatures in Shimanto city peaked at 41 degrees Monday, the highest ever recorded in the country, according to the meteorological agency.

Eight people have died of heatstroke across South Korea as of Sunday, while 867 people have been hospitalised, according to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.

Seventeen people in Japan were killed by heatstroke between August 7 and August 11, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, with more than 9,800 in the hospital for treatment.

In China, at least 11 people have died from heatstroke since July, the Shanghai Daily reported at the start of the month 1, citing local authorities.

“The hot summer this year is not a result of human activities, but it is true we have increasingly hotter summers and global warming is in the background,” said Takehiko Mikami, a climatology professor at Teikyo University in Tokyo.

The record temperatures are a result of multilayered high pressure systems extending over much of the region, including Japan, South Korea and China, Kenji Okada, a forecaster at the Japan Meteorological Agency, said today.

“Descending air currents get heated when compressed by many layers of high pressure,” Okada said. “A lack of low pressure between the layers makes it difficult to create clouds, preventing temperatures from falling even at night. Normally, temperatures are reset by the next morning, but that isn't happening now.” The pattern will remain for some time, Okada said.

In South Korea's case, the three days through to Wednesday are considered to be the most critical. Demand may peak at 80,500 megawatts on Tuesday, while supply is forecast at 77,130 megawatts, leaving the country 3,370 megawatts short, the energy ministry said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

South Korea's Yoon on Sunday urged public institutions, companies and households to cut power usage as much as possible from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. during those three days.

The heat wave heightens pressure on utilities, particularly in Japan and Korea where safety concerns have prompted the shuttering of nuclear power stations.

Two of South Korea's 23 reactors were halted earlier this year and the restart of another was delayed when safety certificates for components used at the facilities were found to be faked. In Japan, all but two of the nation's reactors are shut following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In Japan, the absence of nuclear power has forced utilities to turn to conventional fossil fuels. Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the wrecked Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic plant, almost doubled coal consumption in July after turning to coal- fired plants to meet customer needs.

Demand for electricity in Tokyo Electric's service areas reached 50,930 megawatts on Aug. 9, the highest this fiscal year, according to data on the utility's website. Tepco, as the utility is known, estimates power demand may reach 90 percent of capacity in the two weeks through August 23, it said August 9 on its website.

Tepco, which has about 29 million customers in Metropolitan Tokyo, will seek electricity supplies from other companies and postpone maintenance at thermal and hydro power plants should demand spike, spokeswoman Kaoru Suzuki said by phone today. [more]

Asian heatwaves strain power, health sectors

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