Japan Seeks Protection From Crude Oil Prices By Reducing Energy Consumption
James Brooker reports in the New York Times that surging oil prices and growing concern about meeting targets on cutting emissions produced by burning fossil fuels have revived efforts around the world to improve energy efficiency. But perhaps nowhere is the interest greater than in Japan.
Even though Japan is already among the most frugal countries in the world, the government recently started a national campaign urging people to replace their older appliances and buy hybrid vehicles as part of a patriotic effort to save energy and fight global warming. And big companies are jumping on the bandwagon, counting on the moves to increase sales of their latest models.
On the Matsushita appliance showroom floor these days, the numbers scream not the low, low prices but the low, low kilowatt-hours.
A vacuum-insulated refrigerator, which comes with a buzzer that will sound if the door stays open more than 30 seconds, boasts that it will consume just 160 kilowatt-hours a year, one-eighth of the power needed by standard models a decade ago.
"It's like squeezing a dry towel" for the last few drops, said Katsumi Tomita, an environmental planner for Matsushita Electric Industrial. "The honest feeling of Japanese people is, 'How can we do more?"'
A number of other affluent countries with few domestic energy resources of their own are responding in similar ways. In Germany, where heating accounts for the largest share of home energy use, a new energy-saving law has as its standard the "seven-liter house."
The goal is to use seven liters, or 1.8 gallons, of oil to heat one square meter for a year, about one-third the amount consumed by a house built in 1973, before the first oil price shock. Three-liter houses - even one-liter designs - are now being built.
In Singapore, where year-round air conditioning often accounts for 60 percent of a building's power bill, new codes are encouraging the use of things like heat-blocking window films and hookups to neighborhood cooling systems where water is chilled overnight.
Other countries, including the United States, the largest energy consumer by far, have lagged behind, but even American consumers are starting to turn their backs on big sport utility vehicles and looking at more fuel-efficient cars in response to higher gasoline prices.
But Japan is where energy consciousness probably reaches the highest levels. The second-largest economy produces virtually no fossil fuels, importing 96 percent of its energy needs - a dependence that has led to tremendous achievements in improved efficiency. France and Germany, where governments crusade against global warming, expend almost 50 percent more energy to produce the equivalent of $1 in economic activity. Britain's energy use, by the same measure, is nearly double; that of the United States, nearly triple; and China's almost eight times as high.
From 1973 to today, Japan's industrial sector nearly tripled its output but kept energy consumption roughly flat. To produce the same industrial output as Japan, China consumes 11.5 times as much energy.
At JFE Holdings, a leading steel company, plastic pellets made from recycled bottles now account for 10 percent of fuel in the main blast furnaces, reducing reliance on imported coal. Japanese paper mills are investing heavily in boilers that can be fueled by waste paper, wood and plastic. Within two years, half of the electricity used in the country's paper mills is to come from burning waste.
As host nation for the Kyoto Protocol, the pact for cutting the so-called greenhouse gases suspected of being behind global warming, Japan takes its commitment seriously. But it faces a big challenge. According to figures released last month, Japan's emissions were 8.3 percent above the 1990 level for the year that ended on March 31, 2004.
Original Newspaper Article on the International Herald Tribune Website