Toshiba: Our relationship to energy use has changed

As it rebuilds after the March earthquake, Japan has a chance to make smarter use of electricity

"The earthquake has changed people's values," said Masaaki Osumi, Toshiba's CEO of digital products, as the video wall behind him filled with cataclysmic images of overwhelmed sea defenses, trucks adrift in swirling waters and towns reduced to matchwood by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit eastern Japan on March 11.

"The biggest change is in people's relationship to energy," Osumi said in his keynote address at the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) consumer electronics show in Berlin.

"We suddenly lost the convenience and security that we had enjoyed for a long time and had taken for granted," he said.

In the hours and days following the earthquake and tsunami, Japan suddenly found itself facing severe electricity shortages: many of its nuclear power stations had automatically shut down as the earthquake struck, while other power stations, both nuclear and thermal, were damaged.

Rolling blackouts were introduced as a way to ration electricity district by district.

"The blackouts were regarded as inevitable throughout the summer," Osumi said, but in the end the willingness of ordinary consumers to reduce their energy consumption or to move it to off-peak periods exceeded authorities' expectations, and the blackouts were avoided. Technology played a role in that, he said, coordinating electricity supply and demand, and storing excess power for periods of peak demand.

On the coordination side, social media relayed and amplified an online campaign with a simple message: delay turning on energy-hungry appliances such as rice cookers until after 6 p.m. As for energy storage, earlier this year Toshiba made a small contribution in the shape of a 19-inch LCD TV with a built-in battery able to power the set for up to three hours' viewing, reducing the load on the power grid at peak hours. A timer ensures that the battery is recharged during off-peak hours.

Of course, both those examples involved people taking action to relay messages and program timers. Reducing future energy consumption will involve action on a grander scale -- but action that Japan is now uniquely well placed to take as a consequence of the damage wrought by the quake.

Osumi said there's enthusiasm across Japan for renewable electricity generation at a local scale, and for energy management systems to match demand at the scale of homes or larger buildings.

"We now have an opportunity for creative reconstruction of our cities," he said.

There's also a need for electronic devices with lower, or smarter, power consumption, with the ability to delay power use or match it to generating capacity.

The country may be three to four years from complete reconstruction, Osumi said -- but it could be difficult to keep consumers focused on energy saving when Toshiba and its competitors launch ever bigger and brighter TV sets alongside the sober battery-powered models.

Toshiba's latest is a 55-inch 3D TV requiring no glasses. The 55ZL2G is a so-called 4K2K model, with a resolution four times that of full HD. It will cost €7,999 (US$11,450) in Europe, but there's no word yet on how much power it will consume.

German consumers roaming the show might like to ponder Japan's experience before making any buying decisions: Since the quake, the German government has ordered the closure of the country's nuclear power stations by 2022. The reduction in electricity supply will be less abrupt than that experienced by Japan -- but will require action nevertheless.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags IFAconsumer electronicstoshiba

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Peter Sayer

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Cygnett 2500 ChargeUp Pocket Lightning Portable Power Bank

Learn more >

James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?