local kerosene man
home fuel supplier
Power generation in Japan (2008): 1) thermal (natural gas) 28 percent; 2) nuclear, 26 percent; 3) thermal (coal), 25 percent; 4) thermal (oil and other), 12 percent; 5) hydropower, geothermal, solar and others, 9 percent.[Source: Economy. Trade and Industry Ministry]

The current cost to generate nuclear power is 5 yen to 6 yen per kilowatt-hour while thermal power costs 7 yen to 8 yen per kilowatt-hour. The purchase price of surplus electricity generated by solar power is significantly higher at 48 yen.

Energy supply sources: 1) oil (42.1 percent); 2) coal (21 percent); 3) natural gas (19 percent); 4) nuclear power (11.5 percent); 5) hydroelectric, geothermal and other (6.3 percent). [Source: Japan’s Fiscal Year 2009 Annual Energy Report]

Japan depends heavily on other countries for its energy supply and imports more than 80 percent of the energy resources it needs, such as crude oil.Top exporters of fuel to Japan for power generation (2007): 1) Australia, 21.5 percent; 2) Saudi Arabia, 14.7 percent; 3) United Arab Emirates, 14.5 percent; 4) Indonesia, 10.7 percent; 5) Qatar, 7.8 percent. [Source: Economy. Trade and Industry Ministry]

Energy consumption is falling as a result of Japan’s aging society, population declines and the use of fuel -efficient cars.

Good Websites and Sources: U.S. Energy Department Report on Japan’s Energy Sector ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Energy Chapter ; 2010 Edition ; News ; Energy Diplomacy ; Japan, China and Russia’s Oil ; Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive of Filling Stations

Research Organizations Energy Technology Research Institute ; Institute of Energy Economics eneken.ieej.or ; Japan Institute of Energy ; Petroleum Association of Japan ; Japan Petroleum Institute ;

Energy Industry Sites: Oil and Gas Industry in Japan ; Federation of Electric Power Companies ;Japan Petrochemical Industry Association ; Tokyo Electric Power Co, TEPCO ; Osaka Gas ; Tepco Electric Energy Museum


Energy and Resources in Japan

Japan’s limited domestic energy resources combined with its huge energy demand mean that it must depend on foreign sources for approximately 80 percent of its energy supply. Imports of crude oil account for the largest portion. Except for the periods after the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, energy consumption in Japan has steadily increased. In the decades since the oil crises, consumption of energy by crises, consumption of energy by industry has remained fairly steady while consumption for residential and commercial use and passenger and freight transportation has tended to increase, regardless of economic trends. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“Since the end of the 1980s, as oil imports from such Asian countries as Indonesia and China have decreased, Japan has been relying to an ever greater degree on oil from the Middle East, which now provides around 90 percent of Japan’s oil imports. Global energy demand, especially that in Asia, is expected to continue to increase, and oil is likely to remain the world’s principal source of energy. With oil reserves declining in some producing regions, the world is likely to become even more dependent on the huge oil production capacity that still exists in the Middle East. [Ibid]

Given that Japan already relies on the Middle East for around 90 percent of its oil and also depends on imports for most of its non-oil energy resources, it is clear that the country’s energy supply structure is even more fragile than that of other industrial nations. Under these conditions, reducing energy risk by securing stable supplies will continue to be a critical issue for Japan’s energy policy. To reduce energy risks and to prepare for emergency situations, Japan is pursuing measures for stockpiling oil, encouraging independent development of resources, and promoting cooperation with oil producing countries. [Ibid]

In 2002 the government passed the Basic Law on Energy Policy in order to promote comprehensive and integrated energy policies. This law sets forth the basic energy policy principles of “ensuring a stable energy supply,” “harmonization with the environment,” and “utilization of market mechanisms,” and it also mandates the preparation of a “Basic Energy Plan” that promotes a systematic, long-term, comprehensive approach to policies concerning energy supply and demand. [Ibid]

History of Japan’s Energy Policy

Oil thermal power plant
A mountainous and river-filled country, Japan was able to take advantage of its topography to produce hydropower when it first began to generate electricity. However, when demand for electricity rose during the postwar restoration period, power was increasingly produced at coal-based thermal power plants. This was because the government had adopted a "priority production system" in which certain resources, including coal, were used to produce steel, one of the nation's key industries at that time. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 31, 2011]

After crude oil imports were liberalized in 1962, petroleum consumption rose sharply, as it was recognized as being cheaper than coal. While the government had the coal industry streamline its operations and close down some mines, it enacted the Petroleum Industry Law and adjusted the petroleum industry's oil refining capabilities and production program to realize a stable oil supply. In the early 1970s, oil-based thermal power generation accounted for more than 70 percent of the nation's total power generation.

Yet two oil crises in the 1970s, the first triggered by the Yom Kippur War in 1973, exposed Japan's reliance on imports for most of its consumable natural resources. As it was unable to secure enough oil, the government in January 1974 was forced to restrict the use of electricity among large-lot users in accordance with Article 27 of the Electric Utility Law.That year, the government also implemented three laws relating to electric power development, one of which emphasized the use of nuclear power. The Electric Power Development Promotion Tax Law was designed to financially support districts housing nuclear power plants.

In 1975, the government enacted the Petroleum Reserve Law, making it necessary for the state to stockpile a certain amount of petroleum. At the same time, the government implemented energy-saving drives such as shortening the business hours of large-scale retailers and having TV stations voluntarily restrain from midnight broadcasting. In 1979, the government enacted the Energy Conservation Law, establishing yardsticks for the efficient use of oil and electricity.

Deregulation in the Energy Industry in Japan

In recent years, there has been a steady easing of regulations in Japan’s energy industry. In the case of oil-related businesses, the importation of crude oil to be refined into gasoline, light oil, and fuel oil had earlier been almost wholly monopolized by the oil refineries. Since April 1996, however, such imports have been possible by any enterprise so long as it meets certain standards of safe storage and quality control. In April 1998 the prohibition of self-service pumps at gasoline stations was lifted. As part of a series of deregulation measures, in January 2002 regulations controlling the supply-demand balance were eliminated and a new system was implemented for ongoing collection of information to be used in the event of an emergency. Such deregulation measures are helping to spur the reorganization of Japan’s domestic oil industry through corporate mergers and alliances. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“Deregulation is also taking place in the electricity sector. In accordance with a revision to the Electricity Utilities Industry Law, since December 1995 competition has been introduced into the market for the generation and supply of electricity. The introduction of a wholesale electric power bidding system in 1996 made it possible for companies other than electric power companies to sell the electricity that they generate to the electric power companies. In March 2000 the sale of electricity was deregulated, with an aim to ensure stable supply and help counter global warming. Subsequently systematic reforms of the electric power industry were also implemented, which has contributed to a steady increase in the amount of electricity sold by providers other than electric power companies. In response to the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the government has started reviewing its Basic Energy Plan and has been considering further liberalization of regulations for the energy industry. [Ibid]

Energy and Economics in Japan

Japan is one of the most energy efficient countries in the world and is known for getting the most out of its valuable oil. Japan needs half as much oil as the United States to generate $1 worth of economic growth. The average Japanese spends 1 percent of its household budget on gasoline compared to 3 percent for Americans. Many industries rely on high technology rather than fuel to keep them going.

Japan has no oil of its own and very little coal or other energy sources. It is at the mercy of oil and energy prices not so much because it relies on oil to keep its factories humming, which is true, but it also relies on oil to keep economies in other countries humming so they can buy Japanese products.

Japan as worked hard to become energy efficient after being thrown into dire straits by the oil embargo in the 1970s. Between 1958 and 1970s energy consumption is Japan rose at an average of 21 percent every year. During the oil crisis in 1974, there were not long lines of cars at the gas station (many Japanese did not have cars at that time) but there were long lines at supermarkets as people hoarded toilet paper (apparently because they thought the oil shortage would cause toilet paper factories to shut down).

Now Japan is regarded as the world’s No. 1 energy savings nation. It is energy consumption per unit of GDP is the smallest of any nation in the world, half that of the United States and one ninth that of China and India. Japan uses 20 percent less energy to produce a ton of steel than the United States and 50 percent less than China.

20111101-tepco thermal power anegasaki 11-03a.jpg
Thermal plant

Energy Use, Costs and Production in Japan

Commercial Energy consumption (oil equivalent per capita): 3,552 kilos (compared to 123 kilos in Ethiopia and 22,356 kilos in the United States).

Per capita gasoline consumption: 113 gallons, compared to 459 gallons in the United States and 10 gallons in China. Gasoline costs are roughly three times higher in Japan than in the United States.

Australia is Japan’s largest supplier, supplying Japan with 18.7 percent of its energy needs, including uranium ore, natural gas and 179.16 million tons of coal (59 percent of Japan’s coal imports). The second biggest supplier is Saudi Arabia, which provides 14.7 percent of Japan’s energy needs. Australia’s supplies are critical to Japan’s future and is likely that it will open its markets more to Australian agricultural products in return for guaranteed supplies of energy.

The price of gasoline reached a record ¥150 a liter in November 2007. High energy prices forced airline companies to cut back on domestic routes and forced cuts in ferry and bus service. They also resulted in people driving less, avoiding overseas travel (fuel surcharges on flight between the United States and Japan reached ¥55,000 per flight), and spending considerably more for energy-saving air conditioners. To offset the burden of high oil price the government lowered highway tolls and provided subsidies for kerosene poor families.

Japan is a leader in the efficient use of energy by industries. Japan needs considerably less energy to produce electricity, cement and steel than China, India or even the United States and Germany.

Japan’s Energy Goals

In May 2011, Kyodo reported, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that Japan will dramatically change its energy policy to be less dependent on fossil fuel and nuclear power, unveiling a new target of generating 20 percent of its electricity from natural resources as soon as possible in the 2020s. ''Japan will now review its basic energy plan from scratch and is set to address new challenges,'' Kan said at a forum dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. [Source: Takuya Karube, Kyodo, May 25, 2011]

Kan said Japan will try to meet the new target, 10 years ahead of its original schedule, by undertaking ''drastic technological innovation'' in the wake of the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. ''We will mobilize all our resources to break the barrier to practical use due to such aspects as technology and costs, and we will elevate renewable energy to one of society's core energy sources,'' he said. [Ibid]

“To start with, Kan said Japan will try to reduce the cost of generating solar power to a third of the current level by 2020 and to one-sixth by 2030,” Kyodo reported. At present, renewable energy resources, such as solar and wind, only make up about 1 percent of Japan's total power supply. Even including the amount of energy generated by hydraulic plants, the ratio is around only 10 percent. Before the Fukushima accident, Japan relied on nuclear power for about 30 percent of its electricity and it had a plan to make atomic power account for 50 percent of its total power output by 2030.” [Ibid]

“By promoting power-saving measures more strongly than ever before, Kan said Japan's mid- and long-term energy policy up to now will be reconsidered. Kan, however, said nuclear energy will remain one of the pillars of Japanese energy policy -- by achieving the highest level of safety. In addition, Kan touched on Japan's ongoing efforts to rebuild the country from the worst natural catastrophe in its postwar history that obliterated northeastern coastal towns. Kan told global leaders at the OECD gathering that Japan's economy is resilient and will pull through what he has called the greatest difficulty experienced by it after World War II.” [Ibid]

20111101-tepco thermal power lpG Futtsu 11-05a.jpg
Thermal plant

Energy Supply After Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

To make up for the energy shortfall the government has starting up inactive thermal generators. However, if it increases the number of active thermal generators, greenhouse gas emissions will also rise, making it difficult for the government to keep its promise to the international community of cutting the emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

Even if the government decides to keep operating a certain number of nuclear power plants, power companies will likely be required to beef up their antiquake and tsunami measures, thus raising the cost of generating electricity.

Power companies also face difficulty in their attempts to resume operations at the 22 nuclear reactors currently undergoing periodic inspections. To resume operations, power companies need government approval from municipalities where the reactors are located, but since the Great East Japan Earthquake, many are concerned about reactor safety.

Under these conditions, the government's energy policy review will likely result in increased electricity costs. Consumers may very well have to shoulder this increase if power companies raise their prices.

Japanese Utilities Boost Thermal Output After Fukushima

In July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Tokyo Gas Co. and JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. are considering doubling the production capacity of their thermal power plant in Kawasaki around 2020. The power plant operated by Kawasaki Natural Gas Power Generation Co., a joint venture between Tokyo Gas and JX, has an output capacity of nearly 850,000 kilowatts--equivalent to a nuclear reactor. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 23, 2012]

“The major gas utility and the oil giant are considering selling most of the increased output of the Kawasaki plant to newcomers in the electricity retail business for large-lot customers. This will enable new retail companies to provide more electricity to clients and thereby offer consumers a wider variety of choices, according to company sources. [Ibid]

“Tokyo Gas and JX believe there will be enough demand for their planned output increase at the Kawasaki plant because TEPCO cannot increase its output for the time being as it has no prospects of reactivating its idled nuclear reactors. Located in the waterfront area of the city's Kawasaki Ward, the natural gas thermal power plant has two generators. An additional generator will be built on the premises, and employ a more efficient "combined cycle" power generation system using gas and steam turbines. [Ibid]

Smart Grids and Legislation to Buy Clean Energy

Japan is a leader in “smart grid” power transmission, technology. A next-generation power network that will optimize supply to residential and other properties, smart girds are efficient power transmission networks that can handle fluctuating power generated by solar and wind power and other renewable sources. They are expected to encourage the use of renewable energy such as solar and wind because they give stability to the output of electricity supplied by such fluctuating natural power sources.

A bill submitted to the Diet in 2011 for a special measures law on renewable energy sources includes a system that obliges power firms to purchase electricity generated from clean energy sources such as solar and wind power. If the bill is passed, natural energy generation is expected to create huge business opportunities, even though the cost of generating such power is significantly higher than that of nuclear power generation, observers said.

Next-generation "smart grid" power transmission is considered integral to Japan's energy efficiency. By using a network utilizing information technology, the amount of residential and corporate electricity consumed can easily be checked and more efficiently managed. The government is also considering developing an energy storage system and expanding the use of light-emitting diode equipment.

The renewable energy special measures bill is intended to promote the use of electricity generated from renewable energy sources, by obliging utility firms to purchase electricity from such sources.The envisaged law would make it easier for individuals and corporations to make back the initial investment of installing power-generation facilities that use renewable energy. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 15, 2011]

Under the system envisaged in the bill, power firms will from fiscal 2012 be obliged to purchase all electricity generated from solar, wind, geothermal and biomass facilities that have been constructed by businesses and other organizations. The power firms will also be obliged to purchase surplus electricity generated by private households that have their own solar power generators.

The obligation on utilities to purchase renewable energy-derived electricity from companies will remain in effect for 15 to 20 years, and for 10 years for solar-generated electricity from private households. Power firms already purchase surplus electricity from private households with solar panels. But under the new system, the government-set purchase price will initially be raised to a much higher level, before being gradually lowered over time.

The increased costs imposed on power firms will be passed on to their customers in the form of higher bills for electricity consumption. According to government calculations, an average household's monthly electricity bill be 150 yen to 200 yen higher for 10 years following the new system's introduction.

The bill was approved at a Cabinet meeting in the morning of March 11, hours before the Great East Japan Earthquake hit. Originally, the main focus of the bill was to promote renewable-energy technology that does not emit greenhouse gases as a replacement for thermal power generation, to help slow global warming. However, after the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the focus of the bill was changed to promote renewable energy as a replacement for nuclear power.

Marubeni and Google are developing a large-scale submarine power cable network to deliver power produced wind power stations to inland electricity system.

Feed-in Tariff Energy System in Japan

Hironori Kaneshima and Ryosuke Yamauchi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Japan has taken its first step in spreading the use of renewable energy with the start of a feed-in tariff, a policy mechanism obliging utilities to purchase all the electricity generated by wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. The government is aiming to reduce its dependence on nuclear plants, but the introduction of the feed-in tariff system based on the renewable energy special measures law will effectively increase utility bills paid by companies and households. [Source: Hironori Kaneshima and Ryosuke Yamauchi, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 3, 2012]

“Renewable energy is expected to become more widespread through the introduction of a feed-in tariff system, which obliges power firms to buy electricity from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, but how to send such electricity to urban areas with high demand is a major challenge. [Ibid]

“Existing power grid systems were established to send electricity from particular large-scale power plants, such as thermal and nuclear power plants. However, solar and wind power is generated in relatively small-scale plants scattered over idle land. To send electricity from such plants, it is often necessary to construct new power grids. It is also unclear who would shoulder the costs of such construction. [Ibid]

“SoftBank is planning to use the feed-in tariff system at its 10 solar and one wind power plants, including a mega solar power plant in Kyoto, which is owned by a renewable energy unit of the company. SoftBank President Masayoshi Son said at a ceremony marking the start of operations of the plant, "This will be the most economical power generation in Japan after we recoup our capital investment. This will enable mankind and the Earth to coexist.” [Ibid]

Japanese Energy Companies

The trading houses Mitsubishi and Mitsui are involved in a number of energy projects including ones to develop natural gas deposits above the Arctic Circle on the Yamal Peninsula in northwestern Siberia. By some estimates 30 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves lie in the Arctic.

Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) is a quasi-governmental, independent administrative instituting that is behind a number of energy and resource-oriented projects.

Energy Conservation in Japan

eco apartment building
The government offers some subsidies to home-owners that make their homes more energy- and water- efficient by doing things like installing double-glazed windows, heat insulation and polyurethane between the walls; purchasing solar-powered water heaters, solar-powered electricity generators and water systems that collects rainwater; and using highly-efficient water heaters, water purification systems and systems that heats the floors with hot water.

Japan is a world leader in energy saving technology. It uses 20 percent less energy to produce a ton of steel than the United States and 50 percent less than China. But there is still a lot of waste. Houses and apartments often lack insulation, which means they are cold in the winter, hot in the summer and don’t block out the noise of neighbors.

To make interior spaces brighter and more appealing, a Japanese company invented a mirror system with light tracking censors that reflect 70 to 90 percent of the light from the sun into a building. There are controls which allow the homeowner to regulate the amount infrared and ultraviolet light that is let in. A home system costs between $14,000 and $28,000 installed. [Source: Leonard Cohen, Discover magazine. Cohen is the author of the book 283 Useful Ideas from Japan]

Sales for things like energy-efficient refrigerators, air conditioners and flat-screen televisions rose with the introduction of the eco-point system in 2009 but fell when the number of eco-points awarded was halved in 2010.

Schools are producing gardens and flower beds along the walls of buildings as “green curtains” to keep classrooms cool. Things like cucumbers and gourds are grown on nets stretched along the walls. In Hokkaido snow stored in thermal insulation is used to cool buildings instead of air conditioning.

In 2005, Prime Minister Juichiro Koizumi government sponsored a “Cool Biz” campaign to encourage men to shed their suits and wear more comfortable and lightweight clothing in the summer to get people to use less air conditioning and save energy. Koizumi himself shed his tie and dressed in casual Okinawan shirts.

“Cool Biz brought back memories of a similar “e-cool” campaign in the mid 1990s by Prime Minister Tsutomi Hata who unsuccessfully tried to convince the nation to wear a bizarre and hideous looking safari jackets made from a light material with strange sleeves that stopped at the elbow. He lasted only 64 days in office.

Some want to reduce the number o vending machines as an energy-saving measure. There are currently more than 5.6 million of them. Most are lit up 24 hours a day and provide both cold and hot drinks. Some also think the Japanese can save energy getting ride of electric toilets with permanently warm seats and shedding the custom of keeping kettles at near boiling throughout the day to make a quick, hot cup of tea. There is a major drive to get more people to use energy-efficient LED light bulbs and get companies to make them more cheaply.

In 1973, the ratio of electricity used by industry was 50 percent. Now it’s just over 30 percent. These days policy makers are aiming conservation measures at consumers, rather than businesses, because households” share of electricity consumption has been rising for decades.

In 2005, the Environment Ministry introduced an experiment, called Cool Biz Japan, to save energy by cutting the cost of operating air-conditioning systems in Tokyo. As part of the plan, thermostats in government buildings were raised to about 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Setting an example, the prime minister at the time, Junichiro Koizumi, adopted an open-collar look that helped to make him something of a fashion leader.

Only 10 percent of new houses built every years meet the latest and strict standards for energy efficiency. Only four percent of all houses in Japan meet the criteria. Such houses use 33 percent to 44 percent less energy than those that don’t meet the standards. Stimulus measures to get people to make their homes more energy efficient have no been widely utilized. [Source: Hiroko Kono, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 2010]

A plan to offer subsidies to people for making their houses more energy efficient was approved by the Japanese government in June 2010. Among the proposals are offering incentives to homeowners to 1) add thermal insulation in their walls and ceiling and 2) install double-glazed window glass/ These measures would not only reduce energy costs but also be a boost for producers of such products at a time when the construction industry is suffering as real estate prices declines and money being taken out of public works projects.

Japan is really pushing LED lighting. LED lights are significanlty more expensive that normal lights---a high quality LED build can cost $60 and lower quality one $12---but they last for about 13 years and use relatively little energy. They are increasingly being used for a variety of lighting---everything from flashlights to traffic lights.

Green Curtains

“A growing number of people are turning to nature to help them save electricity this summer, creating so-called green curtains of climbing plants,” says an article in the Yomiuri Shimbun. “According to the Energy Conservation Center, Japan, a key element in power conservation is reducing the use of air conditioners, which consume the most electricity in homes. A green curtain helps block the sun and keep room temperatures from rising through transpiration of the plant's leaves. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 10, 2011]

Green curtains can be easily set up at home, and some local governments have been promoting them as an effective way to battle global warming and deal with power shortages caused by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Katsushika Ward of Tokyo has distributed free goya bitter gourd seeds to residents that produce vines which can make a four-meter high and three-meter wide green curtain in two years. "The room with a green curtain is clearly cooler than one next to it, which gets direct sun," a home owner with a goya gourd curtain told the Yomiuri Shimbun. "Seeing green plants soothes me."

Plants suitable for making green curtains include goya, bottle gourd, morning glory and others. Accordnig to Koichi Sugawara, secretary general of the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Midori no Curtain Oendan (green curtain cheering squad): "You can save money on electricity by making green curtains, which also give you the joy of growing and harvesting something." Ichiro Awano, public relations director of Sakata Seed Co. in Yokohama, recommended goya for green curtains because it is easy to grow.

Awano said, Goya seedlings should be planted 20 centimeters apart in a planter contains at least 36 liters of soil and filled with soil for growing vegetables. It is important to fix a garden net firmly under the eaves, which goya vines could twine around. A net with a mesh of 10 to 18 centimeters should be used, Awano said.When goya has seven or eight mature leaves, the tip of its stem should be nipped off to help lateral buds grow. Provide additional fertilizer after goya begins bearing vegetables, he added. "If you want to make a thick leafy curtain, you should give extra nitrogen fertilizer," Awano said. "But this will result in a slightly smaller harvest."

Japanese put bamboo blinds outside their windows to create shade and cool down their houses.

More Japanese Show Interest in Insulated Windows

In November 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Insulated windows are set to be a new addition to many homes, due to the likelihood of electricity shortages in winter due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the return of the government's eco-point program, which offers incentives for purchases that make homes more energy-efficient. As was the case in summer, people will likely be urged to save power during winter, when electricity consumption usually peaks at similar levels. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 22, 2011]

“A 59-year-old homemaker who lives in a condominium in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, had all the windows in her unit refurbished in autumn 2009 to improve their insulation. In the previous winter, her monthly electricity bill was about 6,000 yen. With the improved window insulation, the bill fell by one-third to about 4,000 yen. The work cost about 500,000 yen, but she said: "I don't need to use a heater in the daytime, even in midwinter. At night, the cold air doesn't come in, and condensation collects on the windows only rarely.” [Ibid]

“LIXIL Corp., a manufacturer of interior products, this month saw a rise in the number of inquiries about its In-Plus "inner window" products, which are designed to be attached to the inside of existing windows. Many visitors at its showroom in Koto Ward, Tokyo, have asked about the products, according to the firm. Officials of the firm said the buzz around the product is due to greater general awareness of energy conservation, as well as the revival of the eco-point system. [Ibid]

“Another method of improving window insulation is to replace single-layer glass with double-layer. This method requires less space than installing inner windows. Asahi Glass Co.'s Pairplus windows have two layers of glass. Each glass plate is coated with metallic film, and they sandwich a layer of insulating air between them. The company said installing Pairplus windows takes only 30 minutes to an hour per window. [Ibid]

“In some cases, replacing windows is not possible, such as in condominiums where windows are regarded as shared facilities. If residents cannot get permission from condo association boards to do window renovations, there are other options available. Morinaga Engineering Co. is promoting Window Radiator, a type of heater designed to be placed below windows. Warm air from the devices rises, forming a barrier that helps ward off the cold from outside. Officials of the company said using the devices means the main heater or air conditioner can be turned down by 2 C. Even after the power consumed by the Window Radiators is taken into account, the household's overall electricity consumption can be cut, they said. [Ibid]

“Ayako Yamakawa, a consumer affairs adviser, suggests these do-it-yourself methods of improving window insulation: 1) Attach bubble wrap to windows; 2) Attach a backing layer to curtains; 3) If there is a gap between the bottom of the curtain and the floor, attach some extra cloth to the bottom of the curtain. Yamakawa said: "Try to take advantage of sunlight during the day. It's a good idea to take down straw blinds or similar things used for shade in summer and open the curtains to let sunlight come in. Then draw the curtains right after sunset.” [Ibid]

“Viva Home, a chain of do-it-yourself stores, said sales in October of backing fabric for curtains were double the level of a year earlier. Sales of heat-insulating sheets for attaching to window panes were up 50 percent, and condensation-absorbing sheets also moved swiftly, the chain said. Such products range in price from hundreds of yen to a few thousand. [Ibid]

Summer Power-Saving 2012

In July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Arakawa Ward in Tokyo is not generally thought of as a summer retreat, but it is going all out to help its residents beat the heat this summer while minimizing electricity consumption. The ward government has launched a project named "Arakawa town summer retreat" in which it encourages residents to assemble at 46 air-conditioned public facilities. Tables and chairs are set up, light refreshments are served and entertainment such as rakugo comic storytelling performances and lectures on health issues are held for free. The ward hopes having residents use these facilities will not only spur interaction with others, but also result in less electricity being used by air conditioners at their homes. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 4, 2012]

In Nagano Prefecture, the prefectural government website lists 80 locations, including shops, as "Shinshu cool share spots." (Shinshu is the old name for Nagano Prefecture.) These air-conditioned facilities provide special discounts and serve cold tea. Shoppers at the 12 Mitsui Outlet Park shopping malls across Japan also stand to benefit from being thrifty with their electricity usage. The malls, which are operated by LaLaport Management Co., offer discount vouchers or small gifts to customers who declare at the malls that they turned off the air conditioner before they left home. [Ibid]

“Coca-Cola (Japan) Co. has installed its latest vending machine at five locations in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture--the self-proclaimed "hottest city in Japan." The machine cools beverages at night when power consumption is low and keeps them cold without using electricity during the day, when power consumption peaks. Even if the power is cut in the daytime, the machine keeps beverages chilled at 5 C or lower. Coca-Cola believes the new machines will use 10 percent less electricity than conventional models. The company plans to phase in more of the new machines in areas that tend to be very hot in summer. [Ibid]

“Railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area have no plan to reduce the number of trains in service as they did last summer. They do plan to curb power consumption by switching off some lights at stations and in trains--a policy already being implemented--changing lightbulbs to light emitting diodes and partially suspending vending machine usage in stations. Tokyu Corp. plans to raise temperature settings in half of its trains on its six lines, including the Toyoko Line, to 27 C from the current 26 C between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Toyota Motor East Japan Inc.'s Ohira factory in Miyagi Prefecture started operating at full capacity. According to Toyota, 90 percent of the factory's electricity requirements can be provided by its gas engine generator. [Ibid]

“The Japan Association for Clinical Engineers, an organization of certified medical equipment engineers and managers, has compiled a manual of advice for medical facilities and people using medical equipment during a rolling blackout. The manual, which was posted on the association's website, suggests a checklist for medical institutions to follow when the power is cut, and includes recommendations such as regularly checking the battery life of artificial respirators being used at home. Even tourist attractions are chipping in. Kuidaore Taro, a human-size mechanical drummer and a fixture of the Dotombori district in Osaka, has been turned off. Now the doll stands motionless with a written message that says: "I'm not being lazy. I'm saving power.” [Ibid]

Power Saving Reduced Heat Island Effect

In May 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The energy-saving drive in the summer of 2011 “alleviated the heat island effect in Tokyo, with the temperature difference between central and suburban areas in the capital shrinking by up to 0.67 C compared with the previous year, researchers have found. The research team has monitored the temperature at about 200 locations in the Kanto region over the past six years. For this project, they selected four points in urban areas, where the lowest temperature was 26 C or above both in July 2010 and July 2011, and 10 points in suburban areas where the minimum temperature was 23.5 C or below during the same period. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun. May 17, 2012]

“The average difference in temperature between these suburban and urban areas fell 0.36 C from 2.01 C in 2010 to 1.65 C in 2011, according to the researchers. The largest reduction in temperature difference--0.67 C--by hour was recorded at 4 p.m., when the gap fell from 1.48 C to 0.81 C. Most surprisingly, the temperature difference from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., which peaked at 1.5 C in July 2010, virtually disappeared in July 2011. The researchers' findings were presented at a meeting of the Meteorological Society of Japan. [Ibid]

“The heat island effect is thought to be caused by urbanization and an increase of anthropogenic heat that causes a built-up area to become warmer than rural surroundings. "Although there was a little more solar radiation in 2011, the temperature difference shrank that year, which suggested the heat island effect had eased," said Teikyo University Prof. Takehiko Mikami, an expert in climatology who led the team. Extensive energy-saving efforts were made due to an electricity shortage caused by the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Electricity consumption in areas serviced by TEPCO was more than 15 percent lower in July 2011 compared with the same month in 2010. [Ibid]

“Mikami believes a drop in the amount of anthropogenic heat--heat generated by humans and human activity--due to less use of air conditioners and other power-saving steps taken over the summer played a central role in alleviating the heat island effect. "The maximum 0.67 C decrease [in temperature difference between urban and suburban areas] isn't small," Mikami said, given that Tokyo's average temperature has risen about 3 C over the past 100 years. [Ibid]

Image Sources: 1) Jun from Goods in Japan 2) 3) Japan Nuclear Power Program 4) 5) 10) 13) 14) TEPCO 6) Doug Mann Photomann, 7) 8) Osaka Gas, 11) Office of Prime Minister of Japan, 12)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated August 2012

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