For a country that is facing a power crisis when the last two of their 54 nuclear power reactors are taken off-line at the end of April, there has been an inordinate number of electronic displays and machines cropping up. No doubt many of these contrivances were cooked up months before the devastating quake of 2011, but now these devices will be no more than a strain.
Vending machines, if you have ever been to Japan you know these things are everywhere. One of the first things people comment on when they come to Japan is the vast number of vending machines everywhere, visitors think that these vending machines are so convenient. Doing a rough count I can come up with at least 10 vending machines within 50 meters of my apartment, and two 24 hour convenience stores in the same area. There is a vast army of trucks and people who keep these vending machines stocked, but last year after the earthquake with many parts of Tohoku without power, all vending machines were useless. In the Kanto area, which includes Tokyo, Kawasaki and Yokohama, there were rolling blackouts from March, so power saving measures were put in place last summer. Vending machines were abandoned and essentially useless, they could not be used in a blackout and often times they were not fully stocked. However have no fear, a company has developed a vending machine with a hand crank, much like the emergency flash lights and radios have.
Innovation or waste of resources? I will have to side with waste of resources on this one, after an emergency, who will want to expend unnecessary energy to crank a vending machine to get a coffee or soda? The company surely wants people to use it, they still profit during an emergency; tossing a good size stone into the machine seems a more viable approach.
Within the next couple of months, as I noted previously, Japan will be taking the last of their nuclear power plants offline and there is currently no schedule to restart any of them. There were major power saving measures that were quickly and haphazardly put in place last year after the earthquake and during the summer in Kanto, businesses reduced their interior lighting, households and offices were recommended not to use their air conditioners below 28°C (should be noted that Tokyo can be well above 30°C with horrendous humidity), at night the streets of Tokyo were dark from not having the jungle of neon signs turned on. Energy was saved, more blackouts were averted and the people generally congratulated themselves for a job well done. Then the energy-saving measures were lifted and things went back to the way it was before, bright lights everywhere and slowly the energy-saving and the memories of blackouts quickly faded. You would think that people and businesses would be looking for more methods to save energy, but the restarting of antiquated fossil fuel power plants quickly put that idea to rest.
This was a cold winter in Japan, as I can attest by the ever-present cold floor, freezing bed, and general shivering even when wrapped up in a blanket in my apartment. During winter many Japanese households still use kerosene oil heaters, energy consumption may have been lower this winter because of those but summer is just around the corner. It is one thing to be able to turn on a kerosene heater to heat your house in winter, but not so easy to do so when the temperatures climb well over 30°C. There has been no talk as of yet to implement energy-saving measures for this summer, that is worrying. Notwithstanding the need for power consumption there has been an upsurge of digital displays around Tokyo, digital advertising boards are increasing in train stations, touch panel information guides, flat panel TV displays on trains, in store digital displays for menus and new electronic vending machines.
This past Sunday on March 11 to be exact, marked the one year memorial of the Great East Japan Earthquake. On Sunday at 2:46pm, when the earthquake occurred, Japan took a moment of silence to remember what happened during that awful day. It was also a year ago that day when Japan started to feel the power crunch as the Kanto area was deprived of power through the devastation that occurred at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Complex. From that point onward there were rolling blackouts, and then a blackout schedule that was pieced together to ensure that the city of Tokyo had power consumption priority over any other city.
The increased usage of electronic and digital display devices could not have come at a worse time. Mind you it was not an overnight occurrence, as this has been building up steadily for some time to make life easier and more convenient. I can recall last year finding it odd that stores were dim even in the evening; most shops removed or turned off sections of their overhead lights. This was even the case on many train lines where every other light was removed. After a short period of time I (didn’t) even notice the missing lights, nor did I mind having to climb the stairs in the train stations when the escalators were turned off. This was the perfect time for someone to step up and take the higher road and do away with unneeded lighting and to reduce the number of useless escalators. Japan could have been the first nation to do so, and then they could have used their influence to encourage other countries to do the same. This could have been a victory for everyone across the board, businesses and homeowners would have potentially saved money and conserved power, but this is the real world. The government got bogged down in ineptitude, businesses flicked the switches back on, and people quickly forgot.
Today it was announced that power companies across Japan are projecting a 9%-20% shortfall this coming summer, and still so far no concrete plans have been made of how to deal with this. Last year businesses and households were asked to reduce their power consumption by 15%, with the increase in digital and electronic devices spreading across the city and countryside and the remaining Nuclear Power Plants offline, it`ll be a wonder if the country will be able to cope this summer season.