Milestones:Keage Power Station: The Japan’s First Commercial Hydroelectric Plant, 1890-1897
Keage Power Station: Japan’s First Commercial Hydroelectric Plant, 1890-1897
Keage Power Station achieved Japan’s first commercial hydroelectric generation using water intake from the Lake Biwa Canal. Construction of the station began in 1890, and was completed in 1897 with a total capacity of 1,760 kW, pioneering the start-up of power generation. A second canal revitalized the station in 1936 with a capacity of 5,700 kW, contributing to Japan’s technological modernization.
Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites
35.010200, 135.788472 Keage Power Station Address: AwataguchiTorii-cho 2, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, 606-8436 Japan GPS coordinates: N 35.010200, E 135.788472
Details of the physical location of the plaque
The plaque will be displayed in the grand floor entrance of the Keage Power Station.
How the intended plaque site is protected/secured
The plaque will be fixed on the wall of the main entrance of the Keage Power Station, which can be accessible to the public with permission.
Historical significance of the work
The major historical significance concerning the Keage Power Station is described in detail below.
1. Historical Background of the Birth of the Keage Power Station
Following the relocation of Japan’s capital to Tokyo in 1869, Kyoto City, which had served as the capital of Japan for more than a millennium, suffered a drastic decline with its population dropping from 350,000 to 250,000. The local government of Kyoto, led by Governor Kunimichi Kitagaki, launched the ‘Lake Biwa Canal Project’ in 1881, which envisioned channeling water from Japan’s largest lake, Lake Biwa, to Kyoto, with the aim of restoring Kyoto’s prosperity [1,2].
The original objective of this project was to use the water of Lake Biwa for waterway transportation, water turbines, drinking, irrigation, and fire-fighting, but midway through the construction work, it was also decided to use the water for hydroelectric power generation, based on the investigation of the hydroelectric plant just started in Aspen, Colorado, USA. This visionary decision to revise the project to include power generation, gave birth to the Keage Power Station, Japan’s first commercial hydroelectric plant [1,2,3], as described below.
2. History of the Construction of the Keage Power Station
Sakuro Tanabe, a student at "Kobu-Daigakko" (presently, Faculty of Engineering, University of Tokyo), was sent to Kyoto for the land survey, starting in 1881 at MihogaSaki in Ohtsu on the shores of Lake Biwa, and resuming in 1882 at several locations between Ohtsu and Kyoto, through which it was found that the water level of Lake Biwa was 43 meters higher than the altitude of Keage in Kyoto . Based on this survey work, Tanabe completed his graduation thesis entitled ‘A Construction Project of the Lake Biwa Canal’, and presented it to the Department of Civil Engineering, Kobu-Daigakko, in May 1883. Just after graduation he was invited to Kyoto as a prefectural officer in charge of designing and supervising the ‘Lake Biwa Canal Project’ launched by Kyoto Prefecture .
To construct the Lake Biwa Canal, a number of difficult issues had to be resolved, such as the tunnel construction in the path of the canal, the fulfillment of high excavation precision, the utilization of domestic materials, etc., for which a range of the most sophisticated measures could be arranged. Thus, the construction work on the Lake Biwa Canal was started in June 1885, divided into the trunk canal (from the MihogaSaki Intake through the Keage Junction to the Reizei Outlet) and the branch canal (from the Keage Junction to the OgawaKashira Outlet), reaching 19.3 km in total length, and was completed in March 1890, resulting in the water intake of 8.3 m3/s from Lake Biwa [1,5].
In the midst of this construction work, two project engineers, Sakuro Tanabe and Bunpei Takagi, were sent to the USA in October 1888 to investigate the canal transportation systems used for the Potomac Canal (297 km from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland) and the Morris Canal (172 km from Philipsburg to Newark, New Jersey), as well as the hydraulic turbine facilities run for textile and paper production in Lowell and Holyoke, Massachusetts .
In fact, as soon as they arrived in Vancouver, Canada, in November 1888, they started for Washington to see the transportation system operated in the Potomac Canal, and then moved on to Newark to inspect the inclined equipment operated in the Morris Canal. Observing the actual circumstances, they found that the two railroads, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and Morris & Essex Railroad, running along these canals, could transport within ten hours an amount that might take several days to transport through the cannels .
In December 1888 they visited Lowell and Holyoke, where they saw the revolutionary harnessing of hydraulic power for textile and paper production by means of giant water turbines . However, faced with the fact that steam turbines would potentially be much more practical than water turbines, they thought that it would be unwise to develop regional industries in Kyoto by adopting water turbines. Thus, they keenly felt that what they were attempting in Kyoto would be lagging far behind the trend in the USA [1,4].
At that time, Tanabe and Takagi luckily happened to hear about the hydroelectric plant that had just started at a silver mine in Aspen, Colorado. They immediately took a train from New York to Aspen, where they observed a 150 hp Pelton turbine and two generators, supplying power to the mine to lift the ore 1,000 ft. They were so impressed with this breakthrough innovation that they dared to decide to incorporate power generation into the Lake Biwa Canal Project. Thus, early in January 1889, on their way back to Japan, they visited the Pelton Water Wheel Company just established in San Francisco, from which they ordered several Pelton turbines . As soon as they returned to Kyoto late in January 1889, they prepared a proposal to add the construction of the Keage Power Station to the Lake Biwa Canal Project, and submitted it to Kyoto City, which was approved in January 1892 [4,5].
Consequently, the construction work on the Keage Power Station was started in January 1890, and was completed in May 1897 (see Fig, 1 ), provided with two penstock runs (see Fig. 2 ) and a total of 20 Pelton turbines (for example, see Fig. 3 ) for a hydraulic head of 32m [1,5].
3. History of Power Generation at the Keage Power Station
From June 1891 to May 1897, a variety of advanced DC- and AC-generators were installed one after another in the Keage Power Station, as shown in Table 1 , achieving a total capacity of 1,760 kW through the water intake of 6.9 m3/s from the Lake Biwa Canal [1,5].
Specifically, the installation of these DC/AC-generators was executed as described below:
(1) In June 1891, two Edison 80 kW DC-generators, as shown in Fig. 4 , were first installed in the Keage Power Station to supply power to the inclined equipment built in the station (see Fig. 5 ).
(2) In 1891 and 1894, a Thomson-Houston 75 kW and three GE 60 kW single-phase AC-generators, each operating at 125 Hz, were installed to meet the growing power demand for electric lights.
It should be noted here that the Osaka "Dento" (Electric Light) Company adopted the same type of 30 kW AC-generators. At that time Thomson-Houston released three standard systems of A35 (35 kW, 650 lamps), A70 (70 kW, 1,500 lamps), and A140 (140 kW, 2,600 lamps), and hence it turned out that the Keage Power Station and Osaka Dento adopted the above A70 and A35 systems, respectively . In addition, in 1892 the Kyoto Dento Company, which had so far relied on its own thermal power generation, decided to switch to supplying the power generated by the Keage Power Station to reduce the cost of power generation . Furthermore, the installation of these AC-generators suggested the end of the era of Edison’s DC-system in Japan after only several years .
(3) In 1894 and 1895, two Stanley 60/80 kW and a Tokyo-Shibaura 60 kW 2-phase AC-generators, each operating at 133 Hz, were installed to meet the power demand for such industries as cotton spinning, textile production, etc. However, these 2-phase AC-generators soon became obsolete, resulting in the introduction of 3-phase AC-generators, as described below in (5) .
(4) In 1895, two GE multipolar DC-generators were installed to supply power to the Kyoto Electric Railway Company, which operated Japan’s first streetcars (see Fig. 6 ) running 6.4 km between Shiokoji (Kyoto Station) and FushimiAburakake [5,8].
(5) In 1896 and 1897, four Siemens 80 kW 50 Hz and two GE 100/150 kW 60 Hz 3-phase AC-generators were installed to meet the rising power demand not only for electric lights but also for spinning, weaving, tobacco, metal foil working, and other industries [5,6]. Thus, the Keage Power Station embarked on 3-phase AC-power generation, pioneering the development of AC-power equipment.
It should be added here that at each installation in (1) through (5) stated above, a distinct DC/AC-generator was adopted one at a time, and hence its power network had to be constructed independently of the others so that its load could be adjusted according to its output only [5,8]. Thus, an unusual number of power lines were hung on a single power pole, each connected to a distinct generator (see Fig. 7 ). Moreover, not only with the widespread use of motors, but also with the growing necessity of long-distance transmission capability, 3-phase AC-generators soon dominated the power system market , and eventually the Keage Power Station lowered its electricity prices below those of other companies , contributing to the diffusion of AC-power systems.
4. Phases 2 and 3 Keage Power Stations
With the advance of power transmission facilities, the service area of the Keage Power Station gradually broadened, but the installation of 3-phase AC-power generators triggered a dramatic expansion of service. Accordingly, the demand for power rose so radically that the existing canal could no longer supply sufficient water to meet the demand [5,8].
Kikujiro Saigo, the second mayor of Kyoto City, thus decided to build a second canal independent of the existing one, so that the two canals could be joined together to augment the water supply to the Keage Power Station. The construction work on the second canal was started in October 1908, and was completed in April 1912 , resulting in the increase in water intake from 8.3 m3/s to 23.65 m3/s .
In step with this augmentation of water intake, construction on a second station was started in March 1910 on the southern side of the first station, and was completed in May 1912, provided with five Escher-Wythe horizontal-shaft Francis turbines and five GE 3-phase AC-generators, achieving a capacity of 4,800 kW. To distinguish the existing station from the second one, the former and the latter have since been referred to as ‘Phase 1 Keage Power Station’ and ‘Phase 2 Keage Power Station’ (see Fig. 8 ), respectively. When the first two AC-generators installed in the Phase 2 Station were provisionally licensed in February 1912, the Phase 1 Station was decommissioned. Thus, the Keage Power Station was upgraded from the Phase 1 Station with a capacity of 1,760 kW to the Phase 2 Station with a capacity of 4,800 kW .
To make the best use of the discharge from the Phase 2 Station, which was augmented by the second canal, a decision was made to construct two additional stations, the Ebisugawa Power Station and the Fushimi Power Station (later renamed the Sumizome Power Station). The former was completed in April 1914, provided with a Boving horizontal-shaft Francis turbine and a Westinghouse 60 Hz 3-phase AC-generator, achieving a capacity of 280 kW; while the latter was completed in May 1914, provided with a Boving horizontal-shaft Francis turbine and a Westinghouse 60 Hz 3-phase AC-generator, achieving a capacity of 1,320 kW .
Since the total capacity of these three stations reached 6,400kW, the use of electricity grew year after year, until most industrial facilities became dependent on electricity. Thus, Kyoto City realized the emergent necessity of expanding inexpensive power generation, and hence decided to construct the Phase 3 Keage Power Station. Construction work started in June 1932, and was completed in January 1936, provided with two Hitachi vertical-shaft Francis turbines and two Hitachi 60 Hz 3-phase AC-generators (see Fig. 9 ), achieving a capacity of 5,700 kW . Eventually, the Phase 2 Station was upgraded to this Phase 3 Station. The capacity of the present Keage Power Station was changed from 5,700 kW to 4,500 kW in April 1979 mainly due to the increasing use of water for drinking .
Finally, it should be added that
(a) the operating body of the Keage Power Station was transferred from Kyoto City to the Kansai "Haiden" (Power Distribution) Company by the Power Distribution Control Law in April 1942, and then to Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc. by the Electricity Company Reorganization Law in May 1951 ,
(b) the operation of the station was switched to remote control from the Kojinguchi Control Office in December 1985 , and
(c) the present Keage Power Station has been operated by the Kyoto Dispatching and Control Center since June 2006.
Features that set this work apart from similar achievements
There are a number of distinctive features of the Phase 1 Keage Power Station as summarized below.
1. Unique Birth of the Keage Power Station
When two engineers of the Lake Biwa Canal Project were sent to the USA, their original mission was to seek advanced technologies in canal transportation as well as in hydraulic power utilization. During this tour, however, they realized the actual situations as follows:
(1) As to canal transportation, they found that the two railroads running along the Potomac and Morris Canals could provide much more efficient transportation than the two canals, and hence they believed that canal transportation would yield to railroad transportation [1,3,5].
(2) As to water turbine utilization, they recognized that steam turbines would potentially be much more practical than water turbines, and hence they felt that it would be unwise to develop industries in Kyoto using water turbines [1,3,5].
Thus, the original mission of their tour could not be achieved, or rather, the tour stimulated them to revise the Lake Biwa Canal Project. In fact, on this tour they were luckily enough to observe actual hydroelectric generation, and were so impressed with such a feat that they decided to revise the project to include power generation. Soon after they returned to Kyoto, they submitted to Kyoto City a proposal to add the hydroelectric power generation to the project, as described earlier. Eventually, their courageous and visionary decision to revise the project led to the birth of the Keage Power Station [1,5].
2. Primitive Structure of the Keage Power Station
Each time a new generator was installed in the Phase 1 Keage Power Station, its own power network had to be constructed independently of the others. Hence, an unusual number of power lines, each connected to a distinct generator, were hung on a single power pole, as seen from Fig. 7. Thus, the Phase 1 Keage Power Station was composed of an aggregation of DC/AC-generators, each driving a distinct power network. This primitive structure was inevitable at that time in the initial development stage of hydroelectric generation in Japan [5,8].
3. Contribution to Japan’s Technological Modernization
After Japan was opened to the world by USA Commodore Matthew C. Perry in 1854, Western culture and technology steadily prevailed, including the start-up of electric light and power systems. Specifically, the Tokyo "Dento" (Electric Light) Company began providing service in 1887 using Edison DC-generators. Subsequently, more than 70 electric light and power companies started operating AC-generators across Japan by the end of the 1890s, such as Kobe Dento, Osaka Dento, Kyoto Dento, Nagoya Dento, etc. .
Compared with several of these companies, the Phase 1 Keage Power Station was somewhat slower to start, but it succeeded in lowering electricity prices by adopting the most advanced power systems only a few years later than the West. Thus, the 1890s was an era of revolutionary progress in electric light and power systems, both in the West and in Japan [6,7]. In particular, the Phase 1 Keage Power Station was a pioneer in starting 3-phase AC-power generation, contributing to the technological modernization of Japan.
 S. Yanabu, “The history of the electrification of Japan and the Keage Power Station”, IEEJ Trans. on Fundamentals and Materials, vol. 129, no. 6, pp. 396-402,, 2009 (in Japanese).
 S. Yanabu and M. Yamamoto, “History of the Keage Hydroelectric Power Station”, IEEE Conference on the History of Electric Power, Newark, USA, August 2007.
 H. Suzuki, “Ogawa Jihei and His Times”, University of Tokyo Press, ch. 1, pp. 1-53, 2013 (in Japanese)
 Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc., “The History of Keage Power Station”, Brochure of Keage Power Station, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan, 2007.
 M. Yamamoto and M. Yamaguchi, “Electric power in Japan: Rapid electrification a century ago”, IEEE Power and Energy Magazine, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 74-79, March-April 2005.
 Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc. (ed.), “50 years’ History of Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc.,” Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc., Kita-ku, Osaka, 2012 (in Japanese)
 Kyoto Electric Power Branch, Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc., “The History of Keage Power Station”, Brochure of Keage Power Station, Minami-ku, Kyoto, Japan, 2012 (in Japanese).
 Water and Sewer Commission, Kyoto City, “Lake Biwa Canal Museum of Kyoto”, Brochure of Lake Biwa Canal Museum, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan, 2013 (in Japanese).
Appendix 1: Reference  was written in Japanese.
This paper describes the history of the electrification of Japan as well as the history of construction and operation of Keage Power Station, whose contents are almost the same as those of Reference .
Appendix 2: Reference  was written in Japanese.
This book describes the details of a series of Japanese gardens designed by a gardener Jihei Ogawa (1860-1933), who was a pioneer in the field of modern Japanese garden design. He first used the Okazaki District in Kyoto to situate many of his works, taking advantage of the clean water brought from Lake Biwa Canal, and using the Higashiyama mountains as a background. Many of these gardens still remain. Incorporating into his designs waterfalls, streams, ponds, as well as numerous water basins, Jihei’s works give a sense of pure beauty and rhythm.
This book consists of 7 chapters, in addition to prelude and postface. The first chapter titled “Construction of Lake Biwa Canal on the road of modernization” describes a brief history of the modernization in Japan, featuring a story of the Lake Biwa Canal Project. In other words, the main theme of this chapter was concerned not only with the process of how Sakuro Tanabe, a chief engineer of the Project, abandoned the original intention of developing the canal transportation and hydraulic power equipment, but also with the reason why he made a tough choice of determining the incorporation of the hydroelectric power generation business into the Project.
Appendix 3: Reference  was written in Japanese.
This brochure briefs the history of construction and operation of Keage Power Station, whose contents are almost the same as those of Reference .
Appendix 4: Reference  was written in Japanese.
This book describes a 50 years’ history of Kansai Electric Power Company, which consists of 2 parts and 9 chapters. The Section 2.3 of Chapter 1 of Part 1, titled “Start-up of Electric Business by Kyoto City”, briefs a history of electric business performed by Kyoto City in the 1880s and the 1890s.
Appendix 5: Reference  was written in Japanese.
This brochure briefs the history of construction and operation of the Lake Biwa Canal, featuring the historical significance, achievements of predecessors, and canal chronology.
- 1 Title
- 2 Citation
- 3 Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites
- 4 Details of the physical location of the plaque
- 5 How the intended plaque site is protected/secured
- 6 Historical significance of the work
- 7 Features that set this work apart from similar achievements
- 8 Significant references
- 9 Supporting materials
- 10 Map