(Bloomberg) — Shattered by the enormity of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and bleeding customers to nimbler rivals, Tokyo’s lumbering, 66-year-old electric-power behemoth has a new strategy for long-term survival: reinventing itself as a cutting-edge innovator.
Tepco, known formally as Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., is scouring the periphery of the industry for the latest ideas and technologies — using blockchain to manage power flows is one possibility. The company is hunting both overseas and around Japan for startups and other investments with the potential to revolutionize the power sector.
One such innovation might be virtual power plants, which aggregate small bits of electricity to send back into the grid or on to consumers. Tepco announced a partnership with Nissan Motor Co. last year to test a system that uses batteries in electric vehicles to create such a network.
But Tepco won’t have the field to itself. Japanese companies from trading houses to mobile-phone carriers are testing VPP systems, showing how quickly utilities could lose their grip on the market to new competition.
Tepco said in March that it partnered with mapping company Zenrin to offer services that could lead to the creation of “drone highways” that ensure safe flights for small-scale autonomous aircraft, compiling a 3D database of potential obstructions such as transmission lines and poles.
The utility’s strategy mirrors attempts by rivals to adjust to deregulation. Tokyo Gas Co., which has taken more of Tepco’s lost customers than any other competitor, announced in December that it set up a fund based in California to invest in next-generation energy technology.