A few more notes on energy conservation

During the very early stages of last month’s disaster I wrote A Note on Energy Conservation, in which I explained why, energy conservation in western Japan would have no immediate effect in relieving the shortage in eastern Japan. This is because Japan’s electrical grid is, for historical reasons, separated into a 60hz grid (same as North America) in the western half of Japan and a 50hz grid (same as Europe) in the eastern half.

I have been collecting links related to the energy situation and several other aspects of the ongoing crisis and recovery efforts and will probably be blogging quite a bit on such topics, but for now I want to just post translations of a series of brief comments on energy conservation in Kanto from Tokyo Vice-mayor Inose Naoki (who I believe will remain in his job allegedly doing most of the real work serving under Ishihara following his unfortunate reelection) that he tweeted a week ago.

#1: The pachinko industry said in a protest message to Governor Ishihara that “the maximum power usage of their 4000 game parlors in the Tepco region” is no more than 840,000 kilowatts” and this is where I learned precise numbers. Before this the only data I had was regarding a sort of “peak velocity” of 320,000 kilowatts. Since Toei and Metro [Tokyo’s subway systems] together are a maximum of 360,000 kilowatts, this is pretty big.

#2: Pachinko parlor electricity consumption is 40% air conditioning, 30% pachinko machines, 20% lighting. To reduce the gap in power supply during summer peak demand time, [we] must reevaluate [our] lifestyles. To speak half-jokingly and half-seriously, the pachinko industry must themselves come forward with plans such as operating only at night, or running without their coolers on during the day.

#3: Drink vending machines use 190,000 kilowatts. The real number may be even higher. Vending machines are refrigerators. The industry is voluntarily engaging in self restraint to halt the cooling function between the hours of 1 and 4 but do we really even need it during the day time? At the very least we do not need them next to a convenience store. Conserving energy at night has no relation with saving energy during peak hours.

#4: Energy Conservation Minister Renho says “vending machines are a large proportion of the drinks industry’s sales” and expressed a “contradictory point of view” regarding industry self restraint, saying “the industry is working to lower energy consumption” (Kyodo). She does not understand the meaning of revising our lifestyles to overcome summer. There is no need to put refrigerators on the street in order to raise the sale price to ¥150 from the ¥90 it is in a supermarket.

#5: The DPJ administration has finally decided to issue government directives, and although there are regulations for both industry specific controls and total volume controls [on energy consumption], they have only issued total volume controls. By issuing only total volume controls,  it will only target electricity contracts of 500 kilowatts and up (large offices), which is only 1/3 of the total. The other 70% is voluntary restraint, and cigarette vending machines fall into that category. This is because they are not using industry specific controls.

#6: Tokyo is a commuter city. Toei and Metro together use a maximum of 360,000 kilowatts during rush hour. Outside of morning and evening rush, they are saving power by reducing service, reducing lighting/AC in stations and cars, stopping one set of escalators where there are two, etc. And compare this with how the pachinko or drinks vending machine industries – which add up to 100,000 kilowatts, are reacting.

#7: Cigarette vending machines are not refrigerators. Beverage vending machines are refrigerators, and guzzle 190,000 kilowatts. It may even be higher in reality. I previously had a number for the pachinko industry of 320,000 kilowatts, but their assertion that it is “no more than 840,000 kilowatts” gave me the real figure. The output of Reactor #1 at Fukushima Daiichi was 460,000 kilowatts. More or less.

#8: The concern is what to do about power use at peak hours. Late at night is not a problem. I have set the hot water heater on the bath in my working area to use electricity at night. I also installed solar panels one year ago. Even though Tokyo has been trying to encourage them the installation rate is low and I put them in myself. Personal experiences are in my book on working as Vice-governor.

#9: Roppongi Hills produces all of their own power. They have a contract with Tepco for backup. This is opposite the usual pattern. In the future, power generation will no longer be monopolized by Tepco. Factories had already begun installing their own power generation but it was expensive and efforts did not move forward. With the nuclear accident, people will start to question the real costs of power generation.

#10: Beverage vending machines. The Tokyo Prefectural Assembly DPJ proposed halting the coolers not from 13:00-26:00 but from 10:00-21:00. Energy Conservation Minister Renho is arguing for something different. In this proposal the Tokyo Assembly DPJ mistakenly wrote that vending machines use 110,000 kilowatts and the cool beverage industry corrected them saying it is actually 260,000 kilowatts. Thanks to that, I now know the real figure.

#11: Changed in electricity consumption. Proper mastery of a proposition is a precondition for linguistic skill. If we look back, the 1990s are not so long ago. Since the 1990s, GDP has not risen, but electricity usage has increased. Therefore, we need to reassess our lifestyles over the last 10-15 years. Why has GDP not risen even though we use more electricity?

20 thoughts on “A few more notes on energy conservation”

  1. Also, since 18 March, Roppongi Hills has been supplying power to TEPCO. Along with a few other micro-producers.

    It is gas powered — an interesting, micro-solution to power generation that was a very popular idea in the US during the California brownouts of 2000.


  2. I must admit, I wanted to pull out my hair when I read that figure on pachinko parlors. I understand what a mega industry they are, but 840,000 kilowatts??

    And sure, drink machines are mighty convenient, but they certainly don’t belong right outside a convenience store. If they were to account for the redundancy, maybe that 190,000 figure would go down. As of right now, I’ve noticed that most of the drink machines around here have the あったかい selections pulled… but that /still/ makes them giant refrigerators… ughhh.

  3. Thanks for this, it was really interesting to see the consumption levels.

    Living in Kanagawa it was infuriating when I was going back to my blacked out house passing patchinko parlours blasting out music, lights and with 50 or more patchinko machines inside.

  4. Pachinko: face-palm.

    That put aside, there are so many ways to save power rather than the wholesale shut-down of station escalators. I can assure you that in many stations most escalators are shut down whether or not they are redundant, which is asinine with an aging population and injured or disabled people who need them. And no, an elevator at the far end of the platform is not a substitute. I would hardly notice the shut down escalators myself, but why the … do they rope-off the unpowered escalators? How does an even more dangerous crowding on the stairs help save power?!

  5. This is a really great post. Thanks for sharing. It’s really something to have different usages in Tokyo put in perspective.

    “In the future, power generation will no longer be monopolized by Tepco. Factories had already begun installing their own power generation but it was expensive and efforts did not move forward. With the nuclear accident, people will start to question the real costs of power generation.”

    Umm, I understand the concept of supplying your own power so that a utility won’t stick it to you, but the real costs of power generation are there regardless of if you use your own plant or the power grid. In terms of resource consumption and environmental impact, you are almost always less efficient than the large power plants on the grid. This might not apply to something the size of Roppongi, but I certainly hope they’re using combined cycle, and not a gas turbine. They have no basis to claim any environmental high ground if it’s the latter.

  6. But is that “pachinko parlours only in the affected areas” or what? I think those figures are smoke and mirrors as they are nowhere near as cohesive as train lines.

    I like the use of kW to make bigger numbers too, yet no indication of time.
    Such peaks are meaningless unless you have an interval

    Tokyo metro train power saving, remove _ONE_ light per car.

  7. The German system seems to be a success case in empowering smaller producers / energy production at the consumer level and there are arguments that Japan has some advantages that mean it can be done even better.


    Something like this would diffuse electricity generation, making Japan more resilient to natural disasters. In addition, this kind of “energy democratization” could not only improve lifestyles, it could also help to revitalize the countryside. Combined with recent pushes to empower local government, there are lots of people who think that this could play a big part in changing Japan’s political economy for the better.

    Alan’s point is well taken as it applies to diffused gas/oil production (or small scale nuclear plants like SHIBUYAEGGMAN).

  8. “Pachinko: face-palm”

    I know the feeling but I’ll give a minority report on this.

    So 40% of Pachinko’s energy drain is due to air conditioning. How do we factor in the likelihood that people at Pachinko places aren’t using their AC at home for the time that they are there?

    And while Pachinko seems useless, is it any more useless than pumping out consumer electronics or cars or whatnot? It is all “economic activity”. Manufacturing is being let off the hook in a big way and this recalls the “manufacturing = for the good of the nation” Vs. “service / consumption = weak postwar youth” ideology that some have argued sunk Japan into the lost decade and made sure that Japan was an also ran in the internet and OS-driven gadget race.

  9. @Curzon: There’s no machine translation in there, but I was half asleep when I did this post, when I woke up at like 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep again for a couple of hours.

  10. Pachinko shouldn´t exist in the first place. Here´s hoping Ishihara kills it as his last political feat before he dies.

    Awesome info about Roppongi Hills, hadn´t heard of it.

  11. I knew about Roppongi Hills before because someone I know that works in an office there told me. He said that in the period immediately after the quake when a lot of the offices were closed, and some temporarily relocated to Osaka, their generator was actually providing a surplus, which was being fed into the grid.

  12. M-Bone: Yes, I also agree there are benefits to energy democratization.

    I really like the counter-argument about the pachinko parlors actually. More importantly, I think there is a kind of multiplier effect that a service economy has to make a nation outstandingly competitive in the worldwide economy. If those people couldn’t spend their money at pachinko, or at host clubs (I like that example too)
    a.) Where would they spend their time
    b.) Where would they spend their money

    I personally think the effects of (b) can cause economic ruin for a nation not prepared for it. Money is conserved regardless of the actions, and it’s likely that if people can no longer indulge in ‘guilt’ services, then they’ll go to material consumption. Then the prices for material things will have upward pressure and the yen will fall.

    Ok, I admit, I haven’t really thought that one through.

  13. @Roy: I have a friend who works for Mori and who says that they are still selling power to TEPCO. He described their plant as “a bank of huge underground jet engines.” Apparently this backup facility was a big draw for the likes of Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers.

  14. Joe: That makes me think the Mori Building could turn into a giant, jet-powered Transformer* building and fly somewhere safe when the Big One hits.

    * pun unintended, but hilarious.

  15. One advantage of microgeneration over centralized plants is it greatly reduces the inefficiency of transmission. A rather large percentage of generated power gets lost in transmission to the end user. (Responding partly to Alan above.)

  16. That cumulative power consumption figure for the pachinko industry is pretty damn huge, though I suppose it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I’ve long been fascinated by pachinko: I absolutely loathe the places for their ugliness and noise, but then I catch myself and wonder if my attitude has been unconsciously shaped by the typical Japanese bourgeois perception of the parlors as representing a louche and alien subculture. And indeed, pachinko serves as a cynosure for the queasy subject of zainichi Koreans, and particularly North Koreans, in Japan.

    To the extent pachinko-funded remittances to NK have not only kept afloat that nightmare thuggocracy, but helped fund the missle they aim at Japan, pachinko is doubtless viewed by some J-nationalists as the business face of a NK Fifth Column here.

    That they are at the very least viewed as a kind of social evil is evidenced by the fact that towns or neighborhoods that want to maintain a quieter, less “gehin” ambiance (eg, Karuizawa or Makuhari Baytown) have successfully employed zoning restrictions to keep them out, begging the question, why don’t other localities do the same? Does it have to do with postwar landownership patterns? A concern for zainichi Korean rights? Payoffs to local officials?

    BTW, on the subject of small-scale electricity providers, there was a discussion in the NBR Japan forum as to whether TEPCO could be considered a monopoly electricity provider. A couple of commentators noted that there were quite a few alternate sources, but that the overwhelming majority of consumers (Roppongi Hills seems to be an enlightened exception) have chosen to go with TEPCO out of innate conservatism or a (misplaced, in retrospect) faith in TEPCO’s reliability. Cost apparently isn’t an issue; the small-scale providers are quite competitive, it seems.

  17. Late, but at Mr. S (and anyone else who ever wondered): non-moving escalators may have the appearance of “a flight of stairs”, however they were never designed as such. Escalators are moving machinery, and are designed to move a non-moving, non-vibrating load up or down.

    If you listen to what escalator makers say, you aren’t supposed to walk on them even when moving (everyone does, though) as it wears out the bearings and other moving parts faster.

    The wear is even worse if the escalator is stopped, as the bearings and other parts are taking a repeated banging in the same spot over and over – and in a busy station with literally thousands of people passing through and walking up and down the (stopped) escalators every day, things are going to break.

    That’s why they are roped off when not in use.

  18. How do we factor in the likelihood that people at Pachinko places aren’t using their AC at home for the time that they are there?

    Well we know from the news that parents in pachinko parlors aren’t using the air conditioners in their cars to keep their kids cool…

    <blockquote<And while Pachinko seems useless, is it any more useless than pumping out consumer electronics or cars or whatnot?

    Yes, because a factory that actually makes something employs a whole lot more people than a pachinko parlor, plus if the product is a consumer good it then goes to a store which also employs people (and is delivered by a delivery company, which employs still more people). If they are making components then you have maker ->delivery company -> final maker -> delivery company -> store or dealer, with people working and collecting a paycheck (and then spending that paycheck, which puts money into other people’s pockets) at every step.

    Pachinko parlors may boost North Korea’s economy, and supply an outlet for a small handful of pachinko game makers, but they aren’t in the business of generating wealth, products or services. They are in the business of separating other folks from their wealth. In normal times I’d say “hey, if people are dumb enough to get fleeced, let them alone”. But these are not normal times.

  19. Me – I’ll just stay home and read a book and I’d actually be pretty happy if every pachinko place just vanished one morning, but…

    For the economy, it isn’t just pachinko. People go out – they ride public transportation, they buy dinner, have a few drinks, play a bit of pachinko, buy a magazine on the way home. Without pachinko, maybe they stay home and watch TV.

    Retail/service (pachinko is a service industry) is now the lion’s share of the Japanese economy and employs far more people than do factories.

    Also, consumers don’t buy pachinko machines, but they pay to use them, and manufacturing, shipping, and servicing them is a reasonably important industry and one that consistently manufactures in Japan. Given the turnover, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they stack up well against some retail staples.

    People single out pachinko because they don’t like it or think that it is a dirty yankee thing, but if 60%+ of the energy consumption of parlors is due to lighting and air conditioning, shouldn’t we also be pointing fingers at Tokyo’s similarly bright and chilly but totally languid depato? And what about Malls? Bookstores? Cinemas? And how far into this until you bugger the whole economy?

    Turn the air conditioning down, yes. But is there any particular reason why the pachinko industry and its tens of millions of players should be singled out and asked to suck it up for the good of the nation?

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