節電しましょう！Let’s setsuden! Here are tips specific to Japan:
Reset your frig: many refrigerators use three kanji for the cooling settings: 強 (kyō; high) 中 (chū; medium) 弱 (jyaku; low). The 強 setting uses the most power; 弱 uses the least. Energy Conservation Center, Japan (ECCJ) calculates that changing your setting from 強 to 中 (high to medium) saves 6.10 kWh a year, which translates to 1,360 yen in savings.
I’ve had all the sections of my refrigerator on 弱 (low) since I got it, and it keeps our food just fine. If you have an ice-making function, it’s possible to turn it off. Inside my National refrigerator, which is a few years old, there’s a button that says 製氷停止 (seihyō teishi; stop ice-production) with instructions to hold it for three seconds (3秒押し). When I do that, a green light goes off and the ice-maker stops making ice. Some frig no-nos: over-packing the frig, putting hot or warm foods inside, opening the doors more than necessary.
Redecorate your frig: For a few hundred yen, you can buy a little plastic curtain to hang in your refrigerator to help keep the cold air in when you open the door.
It’s called a “sho-ene cool curtain” 省エネ クールカーテン and can supposedly save more than 30 percent on electricity usage. Amazon Japan sells it for 630 yen: 冷蔵庫省エネ クールカーテン 11915
Unplug the 電気ポット(denki potto). Just about every Japanese home and office has one of these upright electric kettles that boils water and keeps it at 85 to 89 degrees so tea can be served at a moment’s notice. The trouble is they’re often left on all day, and even all night, even when no one is using them. I used a watt meter to see how much power mine uses. I filled it at 7 am with 3 liters of water from the tap, at room temperature. I plugged it in, drew a cup of water once after it had boiled and left it on 保温 (ho-on, keep warm) for more than two hours. That used up 0.4 kWh of electricity and cost me 8 yen. If I had unplugged it after I made my tea, I would have saved 2 yen. ECCJ estimates that if you always unplugged your potto after boiling every day, rather than leaving it on for six hours, you’d conserve 107.45 kWh and save 2,360 yen over the course of a year. Heating water in a plain-old kettle on gas cooker doesn’t use any electricity at all. Don’t boil more than you need.
Go easy on the vacuuming: vacuum cleaners (掃除機、sōjiki) not only use electricity, they dump heat into the room just when you’re trying to keep cool. Before you run your vacuum cleaner, pick up the room so you don’t leave the cleaner running needlessly while you pick up toys or newspapers. ECCJ estimates that if you use your vacuum cleaner for one minute less every day for a year, you’ll conserve 5.45 kWh of electricity and save 120 yen. You’ll also save power by changing the bag or emptying the filter as soon as it’s full. On flooring, use a broom instead of a vacuum cleaner.
Block heat outside before it hits your windows. Hang up sudare, which are traditional bamboo blinds. Or set up plants to provide shade and a cooling effect. If you go to a gardening center, tell them you want to grow a “green curtain” (グリーンカーテン) and they should be able to steer you to suitable supplies and vines. Nigauri (go-ya) and morning glory (asagao) are good choices. Sakata Seed Co. provides some tips (in Japanese, with illustrations) on their websites. Help may be forthcoming from your neighborhood association or local government; Nerima-ku in Tokyo distributed 1,000 free “green curtain” kits to residents in May.
Reset the thermostat: even one degree makes a difference. ECCJ recommends we set our air conditioners to 28 degrees Celsius this summer. And if you haven’t cleaned the filter on your electric heating and cooling units, now is the time. Getting the muck out can reduce electricity use by as much as 6 percent.
Lose the remote: Any appliance that has a remote control (televisions, air conditioners, stereos, etc.) uses electricity even when it isn’t operating because it is standing by for a signal from the remote. Electricity consumed this way, and by computers and water heaters set on standby, is called taiki denryoku (standby power) and accounts for 6 percent of household electricity consumption in Japan. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimates that the average Japanese household spends ¥6,270 a year just to keep appliances on standby. You can save electricity by turning off the main switch on the appliance, or unplugging the unit when not in use. It won’t hurt anything to do so.
Turn off your toilet: more than 70 percent of Japanese homes have an onsui senjō benza, which is a fancy way of saying a toilet that washes your bum with lovely warm water, and toilets account for 3.9 percent of household electricity consumption. Why not cut the electric options during the summer, or at least kill the seat heater and set the water-warming functions as low as possible. If you can’t understand how your uber-toilet works — who can? — ask someone for help.
Tame your inner clean freak: cut back on laundry frequency and run the machine only when a full load has accumulated. Don’t do your laundry on weekday afternoons. Very early morning and weekends are best. If you have a dryer, don’t use it.
I’ll keep adding tips, so check back often. And please pass the link for this page to your friends. If everyone conserves electricity, maybe there will be enough to go around this summer when demand peaks.