JFS Newsletter No.88 (December 2009)
"Towards a Sustainable Japan -- Corporations at Work" (No. 86):
The overall intensity of society's response to environmental challenges today seems to have rapidly accelerated, and policies aimed at pursuing the dual goals of achieving a healthy ecology and economy are being vigorously promoted around the world. In concert with this trend, the consumer electronics industry is also undergoing significant changes.
In Japan, for instance, once the government introduced its "eco-point" system in May 2009, more advanced energy-saving consumer appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators, and TVs have been drawing increased attention. And since the autumn of 2009, when Panasonic Co. started selling home appliances equipped with its "ECO NAVI" feature -- another development step more advanced than previous energy-saving appliances that provides even more eco-friendly performance through the use of sensor technology -- electronics retail stores have been crowded with people.
Already a long-established Japanese electronics manufacturer, the company changed its name in 2008 from the Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. to the Panasonic Corp., upon celebrating its 90th year in business. Despite the name change, however, its management philosophy -- which is focused on the "devotion to the progress of society through business activities" -- has remained unchanged, and its main theme of "contribution to the solution of global environmental issues" has been advanced along with its mid-term management plan first launched in fiscal 2007, which focuses on steady growth along with profitability and reduction of environmental burden in every business operation as "two wheels of the same cart." In particular, the company is promoting its "eco-ideas" strategy, which focuses on the accelerated solution of global warming issues and globalization of environmental management practices under the following three themes: "eco-ideas in products," "eco-ideas in manufacturing," and "eco ideas for everybody, everywhere."
The company is thoroughly pursuing energy-efficiency (eco-ideas in products), promoting the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions throughout its entire manufacturing processes -- including product planning, production, marketing, and recycling (eco-ideas in manufacturing) -- and promoting joint participation in eco-activities in global communities with people in local societies as well as among its own employees (eco-ideas for everybody, everywhere). The target of the "eco-ideas in manufacturing" initiative was to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions in all the company's production activities by 300,000 tons in fiscal 2009 compared to the fiscal 2006 level. This was already achieved by fiscal 2008, one year earlier than planned. And as part of the "eco-ideas for everybody, everywhere" initiative, Panasonic employees at 342 business sites in 39 countries and regions engaged in a number of environmental activities, called the Panasonic Eco-Relay, in October 2008, under the slogan "Let's Get Together through Eco-Activities."
As an advanced version of the "eco-ideas in products" initiative, Panasonic proposed the concept of a virtually zero CO2-emission-lifestyle, where energy is conserved, created, and stored in-house. In this article, we examine this initiative's cutting-edge approaches through the company's model "Eco-Ideas House," which specifically showcases an advanced ecological lifestyle.
What is an Eco-Ideas House?
In April 2009, the company unveiled its Eco-Ideas House at the Panasonic Center Tokyo showroom in Ariake, Tokyo. Making the most of natural light and wind, both natural assets, the house showcases ways to more efficiently use energy and resources. It promotes the concept of a virtually zero CO2-emission-lifestyle through the design of the entire house, calling it "CO2±0 in an Entire House," which it says will become a reality within three to five years, by combining the following three energy strategies: significant reduction of energy consumption of home appliances and other equipment and improved home insulation; generation of electricity for home use by installing fuel cells and photovoltaic power generation systems; and storage of home-generated electricity in lithium-ion batteries for later use.
Eco Ideas House
"In the Eco-Ideas House we have proposed an eco-friendly household to make the step forward towards a more comfortable and energy-saving lifestyle by introducing traditional Japanese wisdom that makes the most of the benefits of nature while utilizing modern technologies," said Tomoyuki Hajima, of Panasonic's Communication Team of the Environmental Planning Group in the Corporate Environmental Affairs Division, in a recent interview.
Comprehensive Energy Saving with Advanced Appliances and High-Performance Home Insulation
In order to improve home energy efficiency, it is essential to reduce the energy consumption of home appliances and equipment. The introduction of the Eco-Navi system, which includes special sensor and control technology, makes Panasonic's products more advanced than conventional energy-efficient home appliances.
For instance, let us take a look at the average home air-conditioner, which usually emits about 25 percent of total household CO2 emissions. Panasonic's state-of-the-art "Air Robot X-Series" provides more energy efficiency by using various sensors in appliances, including a "room layout" sensor that detects the position of walls and furniture, a "human" sensor that detects the position and movement of people in the house, and an "insulation" sensor that detects the levels of sunlight. By combining and coordinating information from these sensors, the product is able to reduce energy consumption by up to 70 percent when used as a room heater. Another example is a refrigerator equipped with an "illuminance" sensor and an "opening-closing" door sensor. When lights in the vicinity of the refrigerator go off, it recognizes the fact that the occupants have gone to bed, and then shifts its operation to the Eco-Navi mode. It also detects, memorizes, and analyzes the daily patterns of opening and closing of the refrigerator door, and changes its operation to the Eco-Navi mode when the occupants are out. Thanks to these energy-efficient features, the refrigerator's energy consumption is reduced by about 15 percent in winter and 12 percent in summer.
In terms of the lighting used in the house, Panasonic proposes a design scheme that puts the "right light in the right place" and uses the "right light at the right time." In the Eco-Ideas House, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are used in all light fixtures, and the company's LED lamp, just unveiled in October 2009, cuts electricity costs to one-eighth compared to a conventional 60-watt lightbulb. It is lightweight, has a long lifetime, and is able to produce a variety of colors.
Other energy-saving measures available include a ventilation system that draws air from under the floor -- where it is cool in summer and warm in the winter -- into the house in order to reduce the energy burden of air conditioners; a heat pump that uses heat extracted from the air to heat water; and special insulation, such as Panasonic's new U-Vacua, a very thin, vacuum-insulation material made of a glass/wool lining covered with a laminate film. It is already widely used in thermal pots, bathtubs, refrigerators, and housing construction. Insulating an entire house with the material improves its heat-insulating performance, resulting in higher energy efficiency.
Energy Creation and Storage Using New Technologies
CO2 emissions from the Eco-Ideas House are minimized through the use of energy-saving technologies, so the unavoidable need for energy is met by creating it in-house with fuel cells and photovoltaic systems, and then storing it in batteries.
The fuel cell system proposed for use in the house is the one Panasonic started selling in May 2009, the world's first commercial release for home use, which generates electricity as a result of a reaction between oxygen in the air and hydrogen produced from methane in utility gas (natural gas). It can also utilize the heat given off during generation to supply hot water to showers and floor-heating systems. Fuel cell systems feature stable power output unaffected by changes in the season, weather, or time of day. This makes them especially attractive for inclusion in future home energy systems.
The greatest advantage of photovoltaic systems, at the same time, is that they emit no CO2 when generating electricity, although their output fluctuates depending on the season, weather conditions, or time of day. Panasonic says it intends to rapidly expand and accelerate its energy-related business as a strategic area of focus.
Furthermore, the company is working to commercialize its new lithium-ion storage battery, which stores the electricity produced by fuel cells and photovoltaics for use when needed. With these batteries, energy creation systems are able to supply consistent levels of energy, even when electricity generation is uneven -- on rainy days for example -- or during morning and evening peak-load hours. As such, good batteries are indispensable for efficient electricity generation systems.
The energy consumption of an entire house can be seen at a glance by connecting home appliances and facilities to something called a home energy management system (HEMS), which controls and allows the visualization of electricity consumption using the latest information technology. Almost all the devices in the house -- including audiovisual equipment, home electronics, water heaters, fuel cell units, and photovoltaic systems -- can be connected to the HEMS, thus contributing to an overall reduction in the total amount of household CO2 emissions. Such information on energy consumption, which is not usually readily available, can be displayed on a TV screen in the home, so that energy consumption can be easily monitored and controlled.
Hajima added, "Panasonic has implemented its 'eco ideas' strategy over the last three years, focusing on measures to combat global warming, and we believe that our efforts have produced significant results. We are planning to continue to evolve our environmental management practices and strategies." Commenting on the company's new medium-term plan announced in October 2009, Fumio Ohtsubo, Panasonic's president, said, "We are aiming to become the world's most successful 'environmental innovation company' in the electronics industry by 2018, when Panasonic mark its 100th anniversary. The three years covered by the new medium-term plan (fiscal 2010 to 2012) is a period when we should form the basis for achieving this goal." He also expressed his clear and decisive vision, saying that the Panasonic Group as a whole was ready to make paradigm shifts without hesitation, from a domestic-oriented approach to a thoroughly global-oriented approach, and from a focus on existing business to a focus on new business such as energy, and from individual product items to solution-focused systems.
Written by Taeko Ohno