August 23, 2011


Japan Adapts (and Remembers) Amid Power Shortages after 2011 Great Earthquake, Nuclear Accidents

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.107 (July 2011)

On July 1, 2011, the government imposed mandatory curbs on electricity use in areas served by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and Tohoku Electric Power Co., based on article 27 of Japan's Electricity Business Act "Restriction on Use of Electricity." Under the order, big factories, office buildings and other heavy users of electricity are required to cut their electricity consumption by 15 percent compared to the summer 2010 peak level. In the non-industrial sector (commercial, academic, household, offices, etc.), on the other hand, small-scale users and households are being requested to voluntarily reduce their electricity use by 15 percent.

Japan has been hit by fierce heat since late June, and not a single day passes without the topic of how to survive the summer's power shortages being covered in the media and on the Internet. Department stores and consumer-electronics, and retailers took the opportunity to offer various products to help keep cool in summer while saving electricity.

It is rather difficult to explain in simple numbers how to cut electricity consumption in households, but energy consumption by the non-industrial sector accounts for 31.4 percent of the total in Japan. How can we get through this summer while avoiding large power outages? By setting up voluntary regulations or rules? By governments and businesses providing support to households trying to save electricity? By relying on each family's wisdom? And what will we learn from this especially hot summer that many will experience full on for the first time, with less air conditioning available? Below we offer some examples of responses in Japan.

Saving Electricity through Voluntary Regulation and New Rules

Japan has by far the greatest number of vending machines in the world. In April this year the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest political party in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, proposed an ordinance to regulate the electricity consumption of vending machines, but withdrew it after beverage manufacturers set up a voluntary self-regulation arrangement to shut off the electricity powering the vending machine cooling systems on a rotating schedule. Coca-Cola (Japan) Co., one of the leading beverage makers, has implemented this arrangement on 250,000 vending machines since the end of June, and reports that it can save about 33 percent of electricity consumption compared to a typical summer.

Universities, which would be included among the large-scale power users, are also making efforts to conserve electricity. Many started their summer vacation earlier than usual, introduced daylight-saving time and longer summer vacations, and closed some facilities to reduce energy use. The University of Tokyo has cut its overall power consumption by about 40 percent since the earthquake, and aims to cut consumption at peak times by 30 percent compared to last year. In order to check the status of electricity use in real time, it launched an initiative to disclose the electricity use of each graduate school and faculty after networking all the buildings at its Hongo campus.

Local governments in the Tokyo metropolitan area are cutting some of their services to residents to save electricity. Chiyoda Ward is temporarily closing its heated pool; the city of Yokohama is closing fitness facilities during the night; Bunkyo Ward has temporarily stopped certain night-time services for residents; and Adachi Ward has adopted rotating closures of libraries and other public facilities, aiming to save electricity use.

Boosting Energy Saving in the Home

In an effort to support home energy saving, companies in various industries have launched new services, triggering a special procurement boom in the energy-saving field. Bic Camera Inc., a major consumer- electronics retailer, for example, set up a service counter at 30 stores across the country to support customers' energy saving at home. Specialists with extensive knowledge of air-conditioners, refrigerators, and other household appliances man the counter and provide advice to customers.

Green Fan
Image by MARUYAMA Takahiro.
Some Rights Reserved.

Electric fans are big sellers -- four to five times more than the previous year. Since electric fans use 50 percent less energy compared to air-conditioners, many stores are increasing the floor space allotted to sell them. A variety of electric fans is available on the market, including those designed to save more energy, rechargeable types, bladeless fans that generate a large airflow by amplifying intake air, and circulators that evenly circulate cool air from an air conditioner. They started selling well around April, and some were already sold out in June.

Furthermore, an increasing number of consumer-electronics retailers has started awarding their own points to customers who purchase energy-saving products. Although the government-led eco-point program for promoting green consumer electronics ended in March 2011, these retailers are aiming to drive consumer demand again by establishing their own eco-point systems.

In addition to these consumer-electronics retailers, Aeon Co., a major supermarket chain, has also launched a service that encourages customers to save energy at home. Aeon will award its electronic money points worth 200 yen (about U.S.$2.50) to customers who achieve a 15-percent reduction or more in their home electricity consumption in July 2011, compared to the same month the previous year.

Microsoft Japan Co. is offering free energy-saving software for home use, which can reduce the power consumption of computers using its Windows operation system by about 30 percent. The software automatically changes the settings of computers to save energy, for example, by lowering the display brightness to 40 percent of the normal level and putting the computers in standby mode when not in use.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry started an energy-saving campaign targeting 19 million households served by TEPCO. Participating households prepare their own energy-saving plans by choosing several items from a menu on the ministry's website, such as "Turn up the preset temperature of air conditioners by two degrees in the hot season" and "Switch to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting." The website then shows participants how much electricity they saved in a month. Furthermore, they can receive gifts such as free coupons for efficient LED bulbs when they achieve a 15-percent reduction in their monthly electricity consumption, compared to the same month of the previous year.

Ideas for Saving Energy at Home Remind People of the "Good Old Days"

People are not only using new products but also employing a little ingenuity to save energy at home. They are choosing to turn off lights when not needed; unplug electrical equipment when not in use; reconsider TV viewing time; avoid filling the fridge too much; open and close fridge doors quickly; turn off the power to heated toilet seats; refrain from using dishwashers; and so on.

Using the power of nature to fight global warming, a growing number of people is interested in the "green curtain" concept. This means planting bitter gourd or morning glory, which produce long, leafy vines, along poles and walls to act as a "curtain," keeping the sunshine and heat out. A room with a concrete balcony can absorb heat all day long, keeping the room temperature high even at night. But a green curtain on an exposed wall can reportedly reduce the wall temperature by 10 degrees Celsius and room temperature by 1 to 6 degrees.

JFS/Japan Adapts (and Remembers) Amid Power Shortages after 2011 Great Earthquake, Nuclear Accidents
Image by Japan for Sustainability

Many ideas for energy-saving cooking can be found on the Web, such as recipes requiring little use of heat and stews that continue cooking using residual heat in the pot. Thanks to websites that introduce how to cook rice without using electric rice-cookers, sales of earthen pots have doubled since last year. The older generation is very familiar with rice cooked in earthen pots, but the younger generation seems to have found it a novel idea, with some saying they like taste of the slightly roasted rice along the sides of the pot and others noting that cooking with a pot is quicker than with an electric rice cooker.

We have been taking it for granted that we have to use an electric rice-cooker to cook rice, but actually we do not necessarily have to cook with electricity. We can also clean a room with a traditional broom without using an electric vacuum cleaner.

Wind Bell
Rattan blind : Image by mrhayata.
Some Rights Reserved.

Open windows and a front door to let fresh air into your house, use a rattan blind or a reed screen to keep out the hot sun, make yourself at home in clothes made with natural materials, and use a Japanese paper fan. Some people say it makes them feel like they have slipped back into Japan's Showa (1926-1989). In that era, there were no air conditioners, personal computers, or computer games, but people did not feel inconvenienced or less fortunate then. It was just the ordinary lifestyle of the day.

Speaking of games, instead of computer games that use electricity, board games such as jigsaw puzzles, card games, and the "Game of Life" have been selling well since the Great East Japan Earthquake. The good old games not only use no electricity but are also enjoyed by families and friends, just like in the Showa Period, because most are not meant to be played alone.

Now, we have to save energy because there is a fear of power blackouts, but more and more people are beginning to think that energy saving is not what you simply have to bear but what may offer them an opportunity for a richer, happier life.

The Institute for the Study of Happiness, Economy and Society, in cooperation with JFS, held an essay contest on the theme of "Happy Energy Saving," giving people a chance to think about true happiness through energy saving. Here are some of the opinions received so far: "By making an effort to save energy, I noticed a small sense of happiness I had forgotten," "We are having better relationships as a family by talking about what we can do to save energy or spending more time together in the same room," and "Downtown areas and train stations do not have to be ablaze with lights like before. A place with fewer glaring lights is a lot more friendly."

After operations have been restored to the power generation plants that were shut down due to the earthquake, the people will face a lower the risk of blackouts and not have to work so hard to save energy like this summer, but no one should forget the precious awareness raised when forced to save energy. We hope it will lead the way to a better future, lifestyle, and society.

Written by Taeko Ohno

This information is provided with a grant from Artists Project Earth.