[From May Issue 2013]
A monthly electricity bill of no more than 600 yen. Sapporo resident, HARA Mizuho, managed to make that figure a reality by making the best of the things she had to hand. Hara is a member of the bubble generation. Consuming many things in her day-to-day life when she lived in Tokyo, she used to be the absolute opposite of how she is today.
However, her world view changed dramatically after quitting her job at an advertising agency where she’d worked for ten years, to go travelling round 60 countries in six years. She noticed how wasteful life in Japan was. She was especially shocked when she met a soldier in the autonomous Palestinian territories.
Hara asked the soldier: “Why are you fighting this war?” The soldier answered, “Honestly, this war has nothing to do with me. I don’t really hate anyone and I don’t want to kill anyone either.” She began reflecting on the true cause of wars when she heard his heartfelt comment: “But there’s nothing I can do about it because this is my job now!” And she eventually began to realize that war is just a scramble for energy resources.
To use and discard goods is to waste the energy spent on the production of those goods. She believed that if wars were caused all over the world for control of energy resources, then the number of people like that soldier would increase, so she turned her back on the consumer lifestyle. After returning to Japan, she used water instead of toilet paper. She started blowing her nose with a handkerchief. Electricity is another kind of energy that can be consumed. She got rid of her refrigerator and microwave oven in order to reduce power consumption in the home and began generating her own power.
Some people have said, “How admirable,” after hearing about her lifestyle. But Hara feels uncomfortable when she remembers these compliments. “For me, a lifestyle of conserving energy is fun. Rather than being a form of self-denial, I take creative risks to live life by my own rules.” She feels that this lifestyle, in which the goal is not to economize, but to cherish things by being creative, is full of interesting discoveries.
Hara began to pay more attention to her power consumption after the Great East Japan Earthquake two years ago and the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. At the end of last year, she published a book titled: “Dekita! Denkidai 600 Yen Seikatsu (I did it! Life with 600 Yen Electricity Bills)” In it, creative ways to conserve food without using a refrigerator and techniques on how to beat the heat and the cold are divulged. Hara believes that by using local resources, a lifestyle like hers is possible anywhere and she’s planning to spread this message on a nationwide lecture tour.
Meanwhile, HOMMA Kota is starting up a business well suited to Hokkaido, a snowy region. While working for a large construction company, he used to be involved as an engineer in the construction of air conditioning systems that used snow and this led to a career related to snow. Though he was involved in constructing air conditioning systems that used snow for many facilities, he was troubled. If a facility was too large or too small, his company wouldn’t take on the contract, so many potential projects to make use of snow simply disappeared.
It was a TV commercial that was repeatedly aired in Hokkaido after the Great East Japan Earthquake that inspired Homma. The catchphrase of the ad was: “If you change your point of view, you’ll win support.” Upon hearing this, Homma recalls, “Thinking that this was no time to take it easy as a company employee.” Though snow is a nuisance for most residents of snowy regions, he knew it had the potential to be an important energy resource.
While the whole nation was searching for energy resources to replace fossil fuels, in order to bring the practical benefits of snow energy to as many people as possible, Homma decided to start a company that specialized in snow-powered air-conditioning systems. A year after the quake, on March 11, 2012, he founded Snowshop Kobiyama and, on March 11 this year, quit the construction company. He has now begun his activities in earnest.
While Homma already has multiple on-going projects – for instance he’s currently researching the feasibility of introducing a snow-powered air-conditioning system at the Imperial Hotel – he’s particularly involved with developing a scheme that would involve various industries, to attract data centers to Hokkaido. The cost of cooling a large data center in Tokyo – which operates computer servers and so forth – would be over a billion yen a year. However, a similar-sized one installed in Hokkaido and cooled by snow, would be run on for just 20% of that electricity bill.
Homma’s plan is to make use of the heat emitted by data centers in order to establish greenhouses and inland fish farms nearby. He’s trying to create jobs for locals, too. The snow to be consumed at the facility will come from local government sites that store cleared snow. If this proves to be insufficient, Homma’s studying the possibility of buying some in the neighborhood, too. If the removal of snow, which has up until now cost money, is profitable, those living in snowy regions will have a completely different attitude to snow. One company is already showing an interest in the data center scheme, and in about two years at the earliest, we’ll probably be able to see the first “Snow Data Center Village.”
After being motivated by the Great East Japan Earthquake, both Hara and Homma have been promoting the use of local energy resources. IETSUGU Keisuke says, “After the quake, more people began thinking about taking it upon themselves to deal with matters that had up until then been left to national government.” He’s been running a store in Furano City selling electric appliances for some 20 years. About 17 years ago, he also began selling equipment that runs on natural energy resources, because he wanted do some work with an eye to the future that would improve people’s awareness and the environment.
The first of these products was a windmill, and he continues to deal in equipment that generates power from sunlight or wind. However, his leading products are stoves that use compressed wood pellets as fuel and a sewage water treatment system that harnesses the power of underground bacteria. He says, “The number of companies dealing in solar power generation systems has increased considerably since the quake. We’re going to continue developing our knowhow by introducing items that haven’t caught on yet and new technologies to Hokkaido.”
Ietsugu and his colleagues are now testing a hydraulic generation device. They are working on ways to return both the power and profit derived from this to the region. If a company from outside the region installs a power generation system, the region won’t see much of the proceeds. Instead, Ietsugu happily says of his plan – that will soon be a reality – that, “I’d like to build a system in which the profit from local energy resources will benefit the whole region.” It might just be that if we put our minds to making use of the things around us, we will tap into a limitless energy resource.
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo