December 23, 2013 2:26 am JST

Japan to launch energy-saving initiative covering 10,000 homes

TOKYO -- The Japanese government will set in motion an unusually ambitious campaign to make residential power consumption more efficient, with plans to monitor 10,000 households at once.

     Previously, similar efforts have been made on a much smaller scale, targeting 1,000 or so households. The new large program's scale is rare even worldwide. The effort will likely take place in such urban areas as Tokyo and Osaka from fiscal 2014, with the goal of realizing energy savings of over 10%.

     The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will publicly solicit businesses that will handle data collection. The NTT group, KDDI and other communications firms are likely candidates.

     These businesses will work with utilities to install smart meters in participating homes. The devices enable power usage levels to be tracked by time of day. Those homes will adopt home energy management systems, which connect appliances to the smart meter.

     Appliance manufacturers and others are vigorously promoting home energy management systems, which cost roughly 100,000 yen ($948.77) apiece. In homes equipped with the systems, residents can see usage status on personal computers, including such details as the benefits of setting their air conditioning system at a particular temperature. The ministry will seek 4 billion yen in spending in the fiscal 2014 budget for installation.

     Companies that collect energy usage data can also analyze the information to suggest ways to save on energy bills. Such data can help the utility set rates that encourage electricity saving, by making power during high-demand hours more expensive, for example.

     So far, such Japanese cities as Kitakyushu have adopted smaller programs to encourage conservation by offering low rates during nonpeak hours. Kitakyushu succeeded in cutting power usage by more than 9% last summer.

     The firms will also be able to sell the collected data for other applications. For instance, a security service provider may check on the safety of an elderly person living alone if there's a sudden drop in power consumption.

     In previous initiatives, the data pool was not large enough. Tracking the power usage of 10,000 households could provide opportunities for a wide array of businesses, such as advertisement firms. The ministry plans to set rules on data usage to prevent abuses.