The video screen at the Marunouchi subway entrance in Tokyo Station asks passing commuters to “Please Help Us Save Energy,” a plea repeated throughout Japan in television advertisements warning of summer power shortages.
More than three months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, lights are dimmed and escalators remain shut off in subways and shopping centers. The push to save energy is also creating opportunities for companies making long-lasting light-emitting diode bulbs and backup power packs.
General Electric Co. and China’s BYD Co. -- the maker of electric cars and appliances backed by Warren Buffett -- are going up against Toshiba Corp. and Panasonic Corp. to win a bigger share of Japan’s $120 billion appliance market. As summer approaches, the government has asked industries to cut power use by 15 percent following the nuclear disaster.
“LED bulbs and cooling fans are moving quickly because they are affordable to anyone who’s trying to save power,” said Ayako Chano, a researcher at GfK Marketing Services Japan Ltd., a research firm.
GE in April agreed to sell 101 types of LED lamps through the distribution network of Iris Ohyama Inc., a Japanese maker of household products. BYD, based in Shenzhen, southern China, will start selling backup power systems in Japan later this month, said Sherry Li, a spokeswoman. The systems can power home appliances such as refrigerators and medical equipment.
“There are still opportunities for foreign brands, including the Chinese,” said Ikuo Suzuki, an analyst at Advanced Research Japan in Tokyo. “Brands matter less for LEDs and batteries than for TVs and refrigerators, especially if they are cheaper and good quality.”
7-Eleven Solar Panels
Seven & I Holdings Co., the owner of the 7-Eleven chain, said after the March 11 quake it’s investing 10 billion yen ($125 million) in energy-saving measures that include installing solar panels at 1,000 stores and LED lamps at 5,000 outlets in the Tokyo region. McDonald’s Holdings Co. (Japan) and Lawson Inc. are using LED lights to cut energy use.
McDonald’s has also urged employees at its head office to consider taking leave in the first week of August to help save energy, said spokesman Kazuyuki Hagiwara.
LED lights consume less electricity and last longer than traditional light bulbs. They are used in ceiling lights, street lamps, traffic signals and to illuminate flat-screen televisions.
The rolling blackouts in March in the greater Tokyo area, served by Tokyo Electric, have helped spur sales among consumers. Sales of LED lamps doubled in Japan in April and May, while cooling fans quadrupled, according to GfK Marketing’s Chano.
For Osaka-based Panasonic, the interest in LED lights and battery packs ties in with the company’s “big push” in energy conservation, according to company President Fumio Ohtsubo.
The company, Japan’s largest maker of home appliances, said in January it plans to double LED production capacity in two years. Panasonic may also start sales of power systems earlier than planned, said Akira Kadota, a Tokyo-based spokesman.
Sanyo Electric Co., Panasonic’s battery-making unit, forecasts the global lithium-ion battery market will more than triple to 5 trillion yen annually by 2020, driven by large-scale batteries including backup power systems.
Sales of large-scale battery systems will probably expand to at least 2 trillion yen a year, while batteries for environment-friendly cars will reach 1.5 trillion yen, Sanyo said in November. Consumer electronics will account for the remaining 1.5 trillion yen of the 5 trillion yen global market, Sanyo said.
BYD aims to sell more than 10,000 sets of its power systems in Japan within two years, Li said, declining to comment on prices. The company offers a model that can power a refrigerator for as long as 20 hours, she said.
Toshiba will offer similar power systems this summer, accelerating shipments in about a year, said Keisuke Ohmori, a spokesman. Toshiba plans to sell 20,000 units with power capacity ranging from 1 kilowatt hour to 5 kilowatt hour, with the smallest model probably priced around 500,000 yen, he said.
“We’ve received very strong responses from customers in the Kanto region where planned power outages were carried out in late March,” said Toshiyuki Sato, a manager for smart-grid business promotion unit at Yamada Denki Co., Japan’s biggest electronics retailer.
Still, forecasts show that Tokyo may avoid a repeat of last year’s record heat wave as the La Nina weather pattern ends, according to Koji Yamazaki, an atmospheric scientist at Hokkaido University and a member of an extreme weather analysis team in the Japan Meteorological Agency.
Back at the Marunouchi subway, the video screen displays figures for the electricity generating capacity of Tokyo Electric: 43,700 megawatts. It also shows how much is in use, which was 79 percent or 34,720 megawatts as of 11 a.m. on June 16.
Public broadcaster NHK started an “electricity forecast” segment during its news programs six times a day from June 1 for viewers mainly in the Kanto region getting power from Tokyo Electric.
The bar chart showing the usage rate will turn to red from yellow as it reaches close to the utility’s supply limit, alerting viewers of possible power shortages, NHK’s evening news said May 31. So far, the chart hasn’t gone into the red, Tokyo Electric said.