Media  Global Economy  2022.10.27

In Japan, energy saving under constraints, after Fukushima

Le Monde on October 21th, 2022

This article was initially published in French in Le Monde newspaper on 21. October 2022, as part of a series of monthly columns on Asian economies. The original article can be found here:


Column by Sébastien Lechevalier, Professor at Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris), Senior Researcher at Maison franco-japonaise (UMIFRE 19, Tokyo) and at the Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS, Tokyo).

Two researchers have studied the solutions adopted by Japan to cope with the electricity shortage after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, reports Sebastien Lechevalier in his column.

Column. The Fukushima disaster in March 2011 is a unique experience, in terms of its duration and magnitude, for analyzing the modalities and effects of energy saving measures in a context of shock affecting electricity production: the shutdown of all Japanese nuclear power plants (with one exception) deprived the archipelago of 30% of its electricity production.

Alternative energy sources had to be found, but above all consumption had to be reduced ("Responding to electricity shortfalls: electricity-saving activities of households and firms in Japan after Fukushima", Osamu Kimura and Ken-Ichiro Nishio, Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy No. 5/1, 2016). The energy saving measures resulted in a reduction in electricity demand of more than 15% in the Tokyo and Osaka regions for almost four years, thanks to the joint efforts of all stakeholders.

In addition to analyzing changes in electricity consumption, the two economists conducted several detailed surveys of households and businesses. The government has imposed a reduction in consumption on large industrial companies, and has made recommendations to the population.

Understanding the motivations of different users

The government's policy was guided by a dedicated committee, responsible for the ongoing assessment of the imbalance between electricity supply and demand. In total, large companies have contributed the most to energy savings, with a drop of more than 25% in 2011 and then more than 15% through 2014. Implementing in-house solutions to generate electricity and shifting business hours during off-peak periods played a major role, but they were not sustainable because they caused operational difficulties.

More anecdotally, but not insignificantly, the government implemented the "Cool Biz" campaign, encouraging employees to wear less formal clothes in the office and... to reduce the use of air conditioning! Commercial brands have reduced the light intensity in their shelves and windows, identified as excessive, in a sustainable way. As for households, electricity consumption linked to air conditioning decreased by more than 40% in 2011, at the height of the crisis - the issue was then less heating than the very hot and humid summer in Japan.

This study also provides a better understanding of the motivations of different users. For both companies and households, in a context of crisis and price regulation, the motivations were, at first, essentially civic. In a second phase, when the price of electricity began to rise (up to 30% in 2014 compared to 2010), economic reasons became increasingly important.

Persistent sobriety requires structural action

The authors distinguish a third type of motivation: users reduced their consumption because they received relevant information on good practices in this area. These results show that it is possible to achieve a significant reduction in electricity demand over a short period of time without a major price increase if consumers are aware that their behavioral change is part of the solution, thanks to appropriate information, in addition to specific and targeted obligations.

Above all, achieving persistent sobriety requires structural action, both behavioral and technological, and not just emergency measures. In this case, the replacement of old equipment with new and more efficient equipment has played a decisive role, which represents a significant economic cost for both companies and households. This combination of incentives and constraints must be at the heart of the dual strategy of seeking energy security and combating climate change.