Market View

“Cool Biz” is here again ?power saving time for Japan!

2012/5/31 Thursday
fromTTDirector ? Ron Huber
Fountain at Yoyogipark Tokyo, JAPAN

For anyone living in Japan or those of you who follow Japan in the news, you probably remember all of the hype and coverage surrounding the power shortages last year. With spring in Japan being one of the few comfortable times of the year when you don't need the air conditioning or the heat, the looming spectre of power shortages was almost a distant memory. Over the last month or so the number of people and pets in Yoyogi Park on the weekends has continued to grow as the mercury rises. But what really announces the fact that summer is here in Japan is the launch of the various "Cool Biz" marketing campaigns that are already flooding the advertising platforms.

The original Cool Biz campaign started back in 2005. The Government of Japan's Ministry of the Environment came up with the brilliant idea to save electricity by reducing air conditioning use. Along with turning the thermostats up to 28 Celsius (82 Fahrenheit), from June 1 until the end of September workers were encouraged to starch their collars and leave the neckties at home, choose breathable materials, and even to ditch their jackets and come to work in short-sleeves. Fashion retailers were some of the first to increase revenue by developing their own Cool Biz campaigns, but last year's disaster and subsequent power shortage in Japan turned Cool Biz from a social responsibility initiative into a pressing national concern. As of 2011 the government was extra careful to not be left behind ? the Ministry of the Environment's Cool Biz campaign now starts on May 1, a month earlier than previously and last a month longer, until October 31.

Cool biz fashions alone were not enough after last year, resulting in a wide variety of innovative power-saving measures and devices such as switching to LED lights, changing weekends to Thursdays and Fridays to avoid peak demand, and green roofs and 'edible' green curtains to reduce indoor temperatures. For a quick summary of many of the new products and unique power saving measures that were promoted, click here for last year's article.

With summer approaching Japan is once again is preparing to face potential power shortages, but compounding the issue this time is that as of May this year all 50 nuclear reactors have been taken offline for what has been called "routine maintenance". With public confidence in the safety of nuclear power seriously eroded in the aftermath of last year's earthquake and tsunami the future of the electricity is uncertain in Japan, just last year prior to the disaster the government planned to generate half its power from nuclear sources by 2030. It is clear at least in the current political and social climate that this goal is no longer viable.

Power conservation and generation in Japan is now being approached from a number of different angles. Without nuclear power Japan is already importing record amounts of liquefied natural gas for power generation. In addition to fossil fuel sources, power generation from renewable sources such as solar and wind power is accelerating, with utilities as of July going to be required to purchase green power at fixed rates. Along with diversifying the sources of power generation, increasing the efficiency of distribution and management of power via smart grids and smart meters is also receiving more attention.

While Cool Biz may seem like just a whimsical marketing campaign, it is one aspect of the broader efforts put forth by the people of this country to pull together to deal with a pressing issue. If you know the Japanese at all, you know of their legendary ability to unite to overcome adversity. So keep your eye on Japan this summer ? the innovations are going to be cool, the music festivals hot, and the aloha shirts flying off the shelves.