July 23, 2008 – Kyoto, Japan:
In the Land of the Rising Sun, I’m ostensibly witnessing the birth of the stationary fuel cell for homes (for more on fuel cells, check out J-Q.com next week). However, while out running along a promenade next to Big Sight on Tokyo Bay the first signs of renewable energy efforts I noticed were several giant wind turbines across the water. Although my hotel room directly overlooked them, I didn’t see the gently rotating propellers until I was out pounding the pavement and studying the skyline. So apparently there’s not much NIMBY arguing going on in Japan. And the aesthetic impact in such an urban environment? Minimal at best.
It is true, however, that you won’t find every Japanese roof swathed in solar panels. To date, many of Japan’s efforts at energy conservation and reducing green house gases have focused on programs like “Cool Business” (though there is a significantly larger reliance on nuclear power here). Promoted for the last two years and initiated by the country’s prime minister at the time, the slogan essentially means adopting more casual business attire. It’s a seemingly a nominal change but by suggesting that businessmen abandon ties and jackets during the summer, companies have been able to turn down the air-conditioning systems to 28 degrees C or about 82 degrees F, thus saving money, energy, and reducing pollution. (It’s not an official regulation, simply a voluntary initiative.)
It’s a lifestyle change that has been remarkably successful in spite of the fact that some politicians at first resisted the change (one referred to the open-neck look as being like that of a cheap lounge lizard). However, “Cool Business” does mean making some personal sacrifices. And I do mean personal. I have been visiting offices and factories during what has turned out to be the hottest days Japan has experienced yet this year (98.6 degrees). So no one gets out of here without sweating.
On the other hand, Panasonic is hoping that such sacrifice won’t be necessary in the future. Its stationary fuel cells use natural gas to generate hydrogen and in turn generate electricity and hot water for homes. It’s remarkably efficient, making for a 22 percent reduction in green house gases over a gas powered electric plant (and much more efficient than coal or oil). Look for more on Panasonic’s efforts to commercialize fuel cells coming up on the Zero Energy News Web site.