September 30, 2007


An Overview of Efforts in Japan to Boost Energy Efficiency

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.61 (September 2007)

Global Warming and Energy Conservation

There are several kinds of greenhouse gases (GHGs), among which carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major factor contributing to global warming. Since CO2 emissions come mostly from the burning of fossil fuels, global energy-related CO2 emissions need to be reduced if we are to slow global warming. Energy conservation is therefore an important challenge to be tackled at the same time as maintaining living standards and levels of economic activity. Japan is a world leader in energy conservation. In this article of the Japan for Sustainability (JFS) newsletter, we introduce Japan's energy-saving efforts, especially measures taken by the national government, by referring to Japan's "Fiscal 2006 Annual Energy Report," released by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in May 2007.
(Outline available in English).

When comparing GHG emissions per capita or in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), the United States, Canada and Australia are examples of high emitters, while Japan is among the lowest. In Japan, energy-derived CO2 emissions account for nearly 90 percent of the total GHG emissions targeted under the Kyoto Protocol. Of this amount, about 40 percent come from the industrial sector, 22 percent from the transport sector, 17 percent from other sectors including offices and other business facilities ("the commercial sector"), and 14 percent from the household sector.

Japan's energy-related CO2 emissions in fiscal 2003 totaled 1.188 billion tons, 13.3 percent above the 1990 levels. CO2 emissions in 2003 had increased over 1990 levels in every sector: by 0.3 percent (industrial), 31.4 percent (household), 36.1 percent (commercial), and 19.8 percent (transport). Emissions from the industrial and transport (trucks and public transportation) sectors remained roughly flat due to advances in industrial structure and efficient energy use. Meanwhile, emissions from the commercial, household, and transport (private vehicles) sectors grew significantly. These trends were driven by growing floor space of offices and business facilities, numbers of households and use of home appliances, and numbers of private vehicles owned.

The Japanese government's view is that energy-efficiency measures help to both secure energy supply and address global warming, and that they lead to economic revitalization by stimulating investment and the development of energy-efficient equipment, and the creation of new industries. The government has been promoting energy-conservation measures for more than 30 years, particularly in the industrial sector.

History of Energy-Conservation Efforts in Japan

What prompted Japan to start work on energy-conservation measures? The triggers were two oil crises in the 1970s that had significant impacts on the Japanese economy. In 1979, just after the second oil crisis, the Law concerning the Rational Use of Energy was enacted and went into effect. The law has been amended several times to strengthen energy-conservation measures in response to changes in the economic and social environment affecting energy issues in Japan and overseas.

The law promotes a variety of measures. Examples include the introduction of the "Top Runner Program," which determines fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and energy efficiency standards for household appliances; a requirement for high energy-consuming plants and large office buildings to prepare and submit medium- and long-term energy-conservation plans; incentives for integrated management of heat and electricity use at plants and offices; and mandatory submission of periodic reports and energy-conservation plans by major transportation businesses and shippers.

The Japanese government launched the Moonlight Project in 1978, aiming to develop more effective energy use by improving energy conversion efficiency, recovering and utilizing previously-unused energy, and increasing energy efficiency. Under the project, the government promoted large-scale, innovative and fundamental research and development for energy conservation, and subsidized similar R&D efforts by the private sector. This work has been conducted by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and related organizations.

As a result of these policies, major advances were achieved in energy conservation in Japan, particularly in the industrial sector, and manufacturers made dramatic improvements in their energy efficiency.

Energy Conservation Efforts in the Industrial Sector

The amount of energy used by the industrial sector remains at 1970s levels (despite dramatic economic growth), thanks to proactive efforts at energy conservation facilities and technologies, as well as industrial restructuring since the oil crises of the 1970s. Even more conservation efforts are needed, however, as this sector still accounts for almost 50 percent of Japan's total energy consumption.

Under the Revised Law concerning the Rational Use of Energy, large- and medium-sized factories are required to appoint energy conservation administrators and to submit medium- and long-term energy conservation plans and energy consumption reports.

Among Japanese industries in the industrial and energy-conversion sectors, the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) plays a major role with its voluntary action plan, which leads major energy conservation trends in Japan's industrial sector. The federation unveiled the Keidanren Voluntary Action Plan on the Environment in June 1997, which set a goal of reducing CO2 emissions from targeted businesses in fiscal 2010 to below fiscal 1990 levels. The plan also set different goals according to business types, and encourages voluntary actions by each industry.

About the Keidanren Voluntary Action Plan on the Environment:
Japan's Major Industries Reduce 2005 CO2 Emissions by 0.6% over 1990
Japan's Major Industries Achieve CO2 Emission Targets for 5th Straight Year

Results of the Fiscal 2006 Follow-up to the Keidanren Voluntary Action Plan on the Environment (Summary) -- Section on Global Warming Measures -- [ Performance in Fiscal 2005 ]

Energy Conservation Efforts in the Non-Industrial Sector

Energy use in the non-industrial sector has been increasing steadily since the oil crises. In the household sector, electrical appliances are becoming more energy efficient, but improvements are often offset by the increasing number of households, the popularity of new electrical appliances, growing ownership of electrical devices, and changing usage patterns--as consumers pursue ever-greater convenience in life. To cope with this situation, new countermeasures are needed to limit energy use by new devices and manage energy demand from appliances.

The Top Runner Program is one example of efforts to promote greater energy efficiency for electrical appliances. The program defines the "top runner" standards as being equal to or higher in efficiency than the best model available on the market, and makes it mandatory for manufacturers and importers to reach that level after a target year specified for each type of appliance.

Top Runner Program

Achievements have been significant. For example, thanks to these standards, the energy efficiency of air conditioners improved by about 40 percent between 1997 and 2004. The national government continues to strengthen energy-efficiency measures for each type of electrical appliance, adding target items to the program, as needed, and reviewing standards for appliances that have reached the initial target year.

An Energy-Saving Labeling System was introduced in August 2000. Under this system, standardized labels indicating energy efficiency levels are affixed to appliances to guide consumers in their choice of products. In 2003, an Energy-Efficient Product Retailer Assessment System was launched to promote energy-efficient products by evaluating the sales efforts of retailers, as they are an important link between manufacturers and consumers. A total of 150 stores (including 114 large and 36 small retailers) are counted as "Active Promoters of Energy-Efficient Goods" in January 2007.

Energy-Efficient Product Retailer Assessment System

Energy-Efficiency Efforts in the Transport Sector

The energy consumption of the transport sector has been increasing steadily since the oil crises. The amount of fuel consumed by vehicles for personal use has skyrocketed, accounting for about 90 percent of increased energy demand in this sector in the 1990s. This is why energy-efficiency measures in the transport sector have focused on private vehicles.

In 1998, the Law Concerning the Rational Use of Energy was revised to introduce top-runner standards for fuel efficiency of vehicles. In addition, aiming to promote highly efficient hybrid vehicles, the government offers consumers tax benefits, subsidy programs, and low-interest loans through government-affiliated financial institutions. The government is promoting environment-friendly driving habits, and to encourage drivers to stop idling their vehicles, it subsidizes a portion of the purchase cost of vehicles with an automatic idling-stop feature installed.

The public sector's efforts to introduce energy-efficient appliances and equipment help to promote such products at the local level, and help to create demand and expand the market at the early stages of a new product. Under the Law Concerning the Promotion of Procurement of Eco-Friendly Goods and Services by the State and Other Entities (Law on Promoting Green Purchasing, which entered into forced in April 2001, the national government and government-affiliated bodies are encouraged to purchase energy-efficient office equipment and other products for use in government offices and public institutions.

These government measures contribute significantly to energy-efficiency improvements of each type of appliance in Japan. Regardless of how energy efficiency improves, however, energy consumption and CO2 emissions will inevitably rise if the total number of appliances and hours of use continue to increase. What Japan needs next is to evolve to the next level of energy-efficiency efforts: to not only improve efficiency but also foster a sense of sufficiency.

(Written by Junko Edahiro)