Post-Quake Japan Shows Highs & Lows of a Hasty Path to Efficiency

You can file this one among the many reasons that companies, governments and individuals alike should step up their energy-efficiency game.

In the wake of this year's horrific earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in northeastern Japan -- a disaster that is still, and perhaps will always be, ongoing -- the country has shut down 35 of its 54 nuclear power plants, cutting electricity output by 15 percent.

To make up the difference, Japanese society has taken up a number of efforts to cut energy, with mixed results. An article by Mariko Sanchanta in the Wall Street Journal last week took a close look at what the Japanese are doing. She writes:

As temperatures rise and shirt sleeves get shorter, Japan has embraced setsuden, or saving electricity, with unprecedented fervor after the country's nuclear power-plant disaster. Bureaucrats, companies and households are scrambling to reduce their energy consumption this summer, spawning a thriving cottage industry of energy-saving methods—recipes that don't require cooking, ice pillows you keep in the freezer until bedtime, and leggings that wick away sweat.

Despite the communal pitching-in Sanchanta describes, there have been some serious bumps:

But setsuden does have its dark side, literally and figuratively. Elderly Japanese—those over 65 years old who make up about 23% of the population—have complained about walking up the steep steps of escalators that have been stopped in subway and train stations. Mothers with young children are frustrated, too.
"They switched off the escalator at our train station," says Yuka Sasaki, a 27-year-old mother with a 4-year-old. "I carried my son in one arm, climbing up the steps, and lugged groceries in the other. It was exhausting."
Because convenience stores and even some vending machines have switched off their bright lights, some streets are now much darker, giving rise to a wave of purse-snatchings. From March 11 to April 10, 180 bags were grabbed in Tokyo, up from 130 in the Feb. 12 to March 10 period, according to Japanese media reports.

And Japan's corporate sector is also taking its lumps: Weekends at Casio Computer Co. will take place on Sunday and Wednesday to spread energy use more evenly on the grid, offices are keeping their thermostats set at 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and some elevators and escalators are turned off to save energy.

The whole story -- including some interesting re-discoveries of traditional solutions to beat the heat -- is worth a read: Japan Sweats Its Power Use.

Tokyo lights photo CC-licensed by Kevin Poh.