Japan, one can argue, is the global leader when it comes to green technology. For over four decades, Japan has implemented some of the most comprehensive energy efficiency policies on the planet, including 1974's Project Sunshine, which made the nation a major producer and consumer of greentech. The country is home to large solar manufacturers like Sharp and Kyocera and three of the automakers at the forefront of electrification of transportation: Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Modular homes are well established too. In 2006, Toshiba bought BNFL and the nuclear assets of Westinghouse. Despite the slow, lumbering nature of many of the country's conglomerates, we expect exports to increase.
And now it is making a push into green IT and electronics. We recently attended Ceatec, a large electronics show outside of Tokyo, to chair a committee to select the best technologies at the show as well as discuss green strategies with various companies. Here is what we found:
1. The TV Goes Green: Forget screen size or bezel design: Environmentally friendliness has become the new battle ground for set manufacturers. Panasonic says it will reduce the power consumption in its plasma TVs by two thirds by 2010 or 2011, Toshihiro Sakamoto, president of Panasonic's AVC Networks Group, told us in a meeting. (A 42-inch plasma consumes about 230 watts now.) Power reduction will come in two ways. One, Panasonic will reduce the number of components in plasmas, which need more components than LCD TV. Two, Panasonic will try to direct more of the light coming from the light source to the screen itself. Doubling the luminance halves the electricity required to paint images on the screen, he said.
LCD makers are also pushing power. Sharp's new sub-1 inch Aquos LCD TVs consume 20 to 26 percent less power than last year's. The 65-inch slim Aquos can run on 294 kilowatt hours/year. Slimmer sets also mean fewer raw materials, said Sharp, Hitachi and others. Another power trick: Inserting hard drives into TVs instead of relying on a separate DVR cuts power by 12 percent. Sharp additionally has two experimental TVs that run on solar power. One, a prototype 26-inch LCD TV, consumes only 40 watts of power, less power than a conventional light bulb requires.
Since late 2007, Sony has pushed OLED, which is the thinnest and potentially most energy efficient of all TV formats. Unfortunately, the commercial version of the set only measure 11 inches diagonally. Sony has a larger 27-inch prototype but release dates remain vague. Other manufacturers talk about coming out with OLED sets in 2015.
And, for the really far out, there are the "mirror" TVs from Toshiba and Panasonic. A projector in the ceiling beams images onto a mirror coated with a film that allows it to serve as a screen. With digital TV sales still rolling along, the market represents a large opportunity for component makers.
2. Smart Grid Is Global: Mitsubishi will start to market a software package next spring that lets corporate managers see the energy and resource consumption over their own wide-flung operations. A CIO at a chain of department stores, for instance, could use it to determine the power consumption, water consumption and relative efficiency of different outlets. The data can be delivered on a monthly basis or several times a day. In a sense, it is similar to the grid monitoring tools being touted by U.S. companies and being bought by utilities, but it's for in-house use. The application does not yet allow CIOs to dynamically control power consumption; however, that's a feature that will be added in the future.
3. Clean Advice Becomes an Export: What does a company do after it implements programs to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs? It sells its life story. NEC will soon launch a consulting division that will provide best practices on energy efficiency, waste management and greenhouse gas reductions, Ryosuke Ugo, chief manager of the environmental management division, and Koichi Inagaki, a manager in the group, told us in a private meeting at NEC headquarters.
The division's advice will largely revolve around NEC's own experience in reducing its own carbon footprint. NEC has set a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2011: It wants the carbon produced in manufacturing and using its products to equal the amount of carbon reduced by using them to replace travel or older, less efficient machines. In 2008, carbon output will come to 2.8 million tons while reduction will come to just over a million tons. While that's far from mission accomplished, it represents a 50 percent improvement since 2005.
Some of the key tools: Web conferencing instead of travel, virtualization, deployment of blade servers, time shifting of server loads, more energy efficient ballasts in lights, RFID instead of bar codes, reflective films on florescent bulbs, thin client computing, better air conditioner in datacenters (air conditioning accounts for 44 percent of the power in their datacenters). Bioplastics, however, are in limbo because of the food controversy.
Expect others to follow. Nearly every conglomerate has set emissions reductions goals. Hitachi has set a goal of reducing its own carbon emissions by 100 million tons from present levels by 2025.
4. The Datacenter Gets Modular: Forvice produces a small, self-contained housing for a single server rack. The fans are in a panel at the bottom of the rack and the equipment goes inside the glass case. It sort of looks like a phone booth or an upright aquarium. Sequestering server racks in individual pods, versus contained rows, can cut CO2 output and power consumption in datacenter cooling by 24 percent, the company claims.
Meanwhile, Plat Home showed off its hand-sized Web servers. Based around older PowerPC processors and solid-state drives, the company's servers consume 4.5 to 7.5 watts of power, far less than your average Intel box. No one would want to run Monte Carlo simulations on it, but for Web serving it works.
4. Farming Meets Software: Hitachi proudly trumpeted Geomation, an application that takes satellite data, crunches it, and then tells farmers the optimal days to harvest rice or wheat. It has experimented with the application on the island of Hokkaido since 2006 and found that carbon emissions in harvesting were reduced by 30 percent while harvests were increased, said Etsuhiko Shoyama, chairman of the board at Hitachi during a keynote presentation at the conference. Hitachi won an award for Geomation earlier this year.
In the health-lifestyle area, Hitachi is working on Life Microscope, a sensor worn on the wrist that monitors blood pressure and other bodily metrics and then doles out health tips. The crowed "oohed" and "aahed" when Shoyama said that Hitachi told its employees to use a Life Microscope-like application for weight loss. Sixty seven percent of people lost weight. On average, users lose 5 percent of their body weight in 90 days.
5. LED lights Are Go! Sharp earlier this year said it would start making LED light fixtures. Toshiba and others are already there. Mass manufacturing will invariably bring prices down. They need to be. Toshiba currently markets two LED bulbs that consume 7.8 and 12 watts of power that provide the same illumination as 60 and 100 watt incandescents. The bulbs cost $100 and $150 in U.S. equivalents. The version of the 60-watt equivalent with a dimmer switch goes for $350.
6. Batteries ‘R' Us: The country that popularized the lithium-ion battery isn't going to let the industry slip away. NEC says the lithium-ion batteries it is developing with Nissan are on track. Nissan's first electric cars are due in 2010. One technical nuance: a substantial portion of the research involves creating a laminate to channel heat produced by the batteries. Toshiba, meanwhile, will start putting its fast-charging lithium titanate Scib batteries in scooters soon. Scib-powered cars, however, won't come until 2015.
7. Hydrogen Isn't Dead: Panasonic has conducted trials on a unit that produces hydrogen from gases and then pumps the hydrogen through a fuel cell for power. Commercial deployment with a utility begins next year. Not sure where the carbon from the hydrogen production goes, but it's greener than burning gas, says Panasonic, because it cuts energy consumption by 22 percent.