Convenience stores, railway companies get on board energy-saving drive

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An employee at a Lawson convenience store in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, lowers the temperature setting of the store’s air conditioner on Thursday.

Convenience store chains and railway companies are among the businesses helping to reduce power consumption following the start of a government campaign to get households and companies to reduce electricity consumption.

The campaign kicked off Thursday and is scheduled to run through March.

Lawson, Inc. will turn off some lighting at its convenience stores and also lower the temperature setting at its outlets to 18 C. Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is urging affiliated stores to lower their temperature and FamilyMart Co. will leave signage lights off at some stores in busy neighborhoods, an energy-saving measure it began in summer.

Meanwhile, Odakyu Electric Railway Co. plans to lower the temperature setting on its trains. It will also switch off some escalators, ticket-vending machines and ticket gates at times when few people use them. Major real estate developer Mori Building Co. said it plans to dim lights in some areas used by its employees.

It is the first time in seven years the government has issued a call to save electricity during winter. The energy-saving campaign does not include numerical targets, but the government is asking the public to cooperate when possible might be better.

According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the electricity reserve margin — which indicates the surplus capacity of the power supply during peak demand — is expected to be 4.1% in January in areas served by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and Tohoku Electric Power Co., and 5.6% in areas served by six other companies, including Kansai Electric Power Co. and Chubu Electric Power Co.

Although these figures are above the minimum 3% required for stable supply, the government has asked households and businesses to reduce electricity consumption because demand is expected to be higher than last few years due to the economic recovery.

The ministry’s website provides specific examples of how electricity usage can be trimmed. For instance, households can shave their daily electricity consumption by 2.7% by wearing additional layers of clothing and lowering air conditioner temperature settings from 22 C to 20 C. Office buildings can cut daily electricity consumption by 7.7% by turning off about half of their lights.

The government is supporting these efforts through an energy-saving rewards scheme under which customers of participating electricity suppliers can earn points by conserving power, and the points can be used for shopping.

There are fears that the nation’s power supply might be stretched this winter due to disruptions in the supply of Russian liquefied natural gas, which many of Japan’s thermal power stations rely on.

When cold temperatures coincide with a drop in electricity generated by solar power, the jump in electricity demand usually puts pressure on the power supply. If the supply-demand balance collapses, large-scale blackouts are likely.

“The government will do everything it can to ensure a stable electricity supply, including working with other nations to secure fuel,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Wednesday.