Gas shortages and high energy prices are driving Germans to save energy. In 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, Japan was in a similar situation. Can we learn anything from the Japanese energy crisis?

Winter is just around the corner and with it the question of whether and how Germany will be able to survive the forthcoming heating period. The Economics and Climate Protection Ministry is trying to get Germans to save energy with a broad-based information campaign.

But a look into the past shows that Europe can do much more to save energy. Eleven years ago, Japan was also faced with an energy crisis: After the accident in Fukushima, Japan had to save a lot of energy and thus became the energy-saving champion. What can we learn from the Japanese?

Even if the Fukushima accident in Japan was about a lack of electricity and not about gas, as in Europe, some parallels can be drawn. After all, around two thirds of the 54 Japanese nuclear power plants had to be shut down after Fukushima because the government massively tightened the safety regulations for the power plants.

Electricity in Japan is also used for air conditioning and heating. Japan, too, had to take immediate measures to save energy. This is how energy saving became a popular sport for the Japanese.

After the Fukushima accident, the power shortage was initially only a regional problem in the Tokyo area. Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power lost about 40 percent of its power generation capacity in March 2011 as a result of the earthquake and tsunami.

Shortly after the accident, he announced the first scheduled blackout and power disruptions in Japan’s capital. After all, Japan couldn’t easily compensate for this. In the first two weeks, there were only temporary power cuts in outer regions of Tokyo. Power generation was immediately ramped up as much as possible: all available balancing power plants started up, regardless of global climate change.

And so the Japanese government decided to take a variety of energy-saving measures: escalators were shut down in shopping malls and train stations, factories shortened assembly line times, and the pachinko gambling parlors, which were equipped with flashing lights, were closed for the time being. Only every second or third lamp was lit on the streets.

Companies did their best too: in offices, the rule was “one up, two down”: If you want to go one floor up or two down, you should use the stairs instead of the elevator. In addition, fewer and fewer subways and trains were running.

But in the summer, the Japanese found it difficult to get by without air conditioning due to the sweltering heat – electricity consumption skyrocketed again. Because in summer, like in Europe in winter, most energy is consumed in Japan.

The government recommended only cooling down interiors to 28 degrees – but this also had its downsides. Researchers have calculated that around 7,710 Japanese could have died from overheating every year as a result of the energy-saving measures in Fukushima, according to the FAZ.

In addition, in the summer of 2011, the government obliged large companies in Tokyo and northern Japan to reduce their electricity consumption by 15 percent. As a result, car manufacturers temporarily shut down production lines – Nissan Motor postponed shift times in its plants in order to reduce electricity demand during peak afternoon hours, reports the FAZ.

A positive effect of the energy crisis was above all the innovative strength of the Japanese: The technology company Panasonic, for example, further developed energy management systems for large consumers and factories, reports the editorial network Germany. Previously, the energy-saving systems were only tailored for private households.

In addition, the Japanese used more traditional Japanese ways of life again: Bamboo mats are used as sun protection. Instead of the vacuum cleaner, many Japanese also used a broom for cleaning.

The Japanese were also successful with all the measures: According to the FAZ, the power requirements of industry fell more sharply in 2011 than industrial production, which collapsed as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in the north-east.

While in Germany it is above all high energy prices that motivate citizens to save, the price had no influence on the electricity savings of the Japanese. Because on the regulated electricity market, the government prevented prices from rising enormously in the two years after the accident.

But unlike the Europeans, the Japanese are used to natural disasters much more often – this could increase awareness of energy saving. According to the FAZ, the social pressure to save energy was high after Fukushima.

The Japanese government is still trying to establish new energy-saving systems today. In June of this year, the government announced that citizens’ electricity bills could be reduced using a points system: everyone who saves electricity collects points and is thus financially relieved.

In one thing, however, we are ahead of the Japanese: Japan is well behind Germany when it comes to renewable energies. For the Japanese, saving energy and nuclear power go hand in hand. Japan’s measures cannot be transferred completely to Germany, but the Japanese show how necessity is the mother of invention.

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