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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

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Hot item: People look at air conditioners May 31 at Bic Camera's Yurakucho outlet in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA


A few simple steps at home can save energy

Staff writer

The nation faces an even greater need to save electricity this summer than last, now that all 50 usable nuclear reactors are shut down as a legacy of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant crippled by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Nuclear power had covered almost a third of Japan's energy needs, but now that source is on hold. To avoid rolling blackouts, households and businesses have been urged to save electricity during the period of peak summer demand between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays.

Saving energy will also save you money: Utilities are introducing new rate plans that charge more during peak times.

Following are questions and answers about ways to save power:

Which regions are most in need of power-saving efforts?

Basically everywhere in Japan is affected, but people in Kyushu and Shikoku, and the Kansai, Chubu, Hokuriku and Chugoku regions are urged in particular to consume less electricity because utilities in those areas have relied heavily on nuclear power.

Is cutting down on air conditioner use an effective way to save power?

Air conditioners are major power consumers during the summer peak. They account for 58 percent of an average household's electricity use at around 2 p.m. in summer, whereas refrigerators account for 17 percent and lights 6 percent, according to an energy-saving guideline for homes issued by the Natural Resources and Energy Agency.

Setting the thermostat 2 degrees higher, or using bamboo blinds or curtains simultaneously with an air conditioner, can each cut electricity use by 10 percent, according to the agency.

Changing the refrigerator setting to "medium" from "strong," minimizing how often you open its door and not packing in too much food can yield a 2 percent power-use reduction, the agency said.

Turning off unnecessary lights can save another 5 percent.

Unplugging an electric toilet seat when not in use will save less than 1 percent of energy, according to the agency.

Is an electric fan a good alternative to air conditioning?

Electric fans consume far less electricity than air conditioners. Also, using a fan simultaneously with an air conditioner saves more energy compared with using only an air conditioner to achieve the same drop in room temperature, according to air conditioner maker Daikin Industries.

But experts say that for the sake of health, people should not try to put up with excessive heat.

"It is entirely a matter of being comfortable. If people are not comfortable without air conditioners, they should use them, and it is my job to introduce smart ways of using them," said Yuki Wada, a lifestyle adviser knowledgeable about energy-saving measures.

What are some tips for saving energy while still using air conditioners?

Manufacturers continue to produce ever more energy-efficient air conditioners, and thus buying one of them to replace an older unit would help.

However, such an outlay may not always be practical.

Wada says cleaning air conditioner filters once a week can cut power use by 5 percent.

Turning up an air conditioner's fan can create the same cooling effect and use less power than lowering the thermostat, Daikin Industries says.

The company, however, urges users not to turn air conditioners up high to quickly cool a hot room and off once they feel chilly. Instead, it's better to keep the thermostat set at a stable temperature.

Rapidly cooling a room consumes a lot of power.

Daikin advises people to leave the thermostat set at 28 or 29 degrees through the night, rather than set the timer to automatically turn off the air conditioner a few hours after going to bed and turning it on early in the morning when the temperature rises.

Shading the compressor unit, which is outside and releases warm air, and keeping objects away from it can also improve energy efficiency, Daikin said.

Is there a way to cool the outside compressor to improve an air conditioner's efficiency?

Daikin sells for business use portable sprinklers that attach to and sense the temperatures of compressors, releasing water when they get hot.

Keeping compressors cool saves energy, but households should not sprinkle water on them because it could cause them to malfunction, said energy-saving expert Sonoko Toida, who is also an interior and home appliance coordinator.

It has also been recommended that compressors get a coat of heat-shielding paint to help cool the unit and save electricity.

But such paint is mainly for walls and ceilings of houses, a spokesman for paint maker Asahipen Corp. said.

Toida and Wada said that while theoretically the paint could work, they aren't sure how effective it would be. Daikin spokeswoman Saki Hirata said it would be OK unless the paint gets inside the compressor, which has a mesh-covered vent for hot air.

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