Europe is battling an energy crisis as Russia reduces its gas supply. With its recent history of reduced energy availability, Japan can teach Europe and the world a few lessons on how to optimize energy use. In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co lost around 40% of its power capacity overnight and was reduced to scheduled blackouts to save energy. Japan thus embarked on “setsuden” or power saving across the country.
In the weeks and months that followed, shopping centers switched off escalators, factories pared back assembly line times, and pachinko gambling parlors, famous for their flashing lights and noisy machines, were temporarily shut. The attitude of many Japanese at the time was “We need to do something, otherwise, there’s going to be a disaster,” recalled Koichiro Tanaka of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan.
In May of that year, the government urged citizens and businesses in Tokyo and northern Japan to curb power by 15% at peak times during the summer. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), similar measures are being taken again this year in Japan because the country is grappling with a tight energy supply.
As Europe braces for energy shortages from Russian gas cuts, Japan’s own energy crisis a decade ago offers survival lessons to households and businesses, such as dimming the lights and taking the stairs. These are some of the measures implemented in Japan at the time:
- Shopping centers switched off their escalators
- Businesses turned off lights
- The environment ministry wanted to save 25% of its energy by switching off un-used printers, and asking working to bring their own drinks so they could unplug vending machines
- Sports moved their night games to the afternoon to save on lighting
- The government launched a a “Cool Biz” campaign asking workers to dress lightly to reduce air-conditioning
- Car-makers rejigged factory shifts to ease the burden on the power grid at peak times
- Retail chain Lawson switched to using LED bulbs and added solar panels
A study conducted in three cities found that many Japanese adopted power saving behaviors. According to the WEF, public sentiment turned against nuclear energy and by late 2013 Japan idled all 54 of its nuclear reactors that had supplied about a quarter of the country’s power, although a small number of those reactors have been since restarted.
To fill the energy gap, however, Japan turned to fossil fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), coal and oil. LNG imports from Qatar surged after the disaster, more than doubling to 15.66 million tonnes in 2012 from 2010 levels.
The EU has told member states to cut their gas usage by 15% until March 2023. Italy has already mandated to turn down the air-con in public buildings, while Spain has asked office workers not to wear ties so as to keep the body temperature at a lower temperature.