One of the things that strike the most foreigners when they come to Japan is the huge amount of vending machines. They are every where, on streets, inside buildings, offices, next to convenience stores etc. Most of them sell cold soft drinks and coffee, there is also big share for tobacco sales. In total there are 2.7 million vending machines, in other words a vending machine per 55 people. So basically every average residential or commercial building in Japan has a couple vending machines installed inside it or on its vicinity.
Most of these vending machines are built to sell soft drinks, usually cold. They host a variety of beverages, from juices, teas, different types of coffee, energy and carbonated drinks. All year an average vending machine serves 2/3 of its drinks cold and the remaining 1/3 hot. In winter this ratio can change a bit tending more towards hotter drinks. Keeping drinks cool or hot require high energy consumption to keep the refrigerators and heaters running 24/7.
Convenience drives sales
Convenience is the main reason why vending machines have been growing ever since the 70’s, they provide the opportunity to get a drink anywhere, anytime. Also densely populated cities like Tokyo and Osaka have mass concentrations of human traffic on train stations and commercial areas, making vending machines a very profitable business. An average vending machine makes around ¥20,000 yen profit a month, however this profit and convenience does not come without a cost, and a very high one.
Vending machines operate 24 hours and they require to be hooked all time to the electric grid. This permanent energy consumption in massive scale sums up to 6,800 GigaWatts/h a year, 6,800,000,000 KWh.
How much is 6,800 GigaWatts that?
6,800 GWh is enough power to provide 5.4 million average Japanese households with enough electricity for 1 year. This translated into individual consumption would be the equivalent to every person in Japan using a 500Watt hair dryer for 10 mins every single day of the year.
If we looked at this in terms of electric energy generation, all the vending machines in Japan in one year would require a 4.5 month dedicated production from a nuclear power plant similar to Fukushima.
The Vending Machine Challenge
After the power loss from the Fukushima nuclear plant there has been a 29,891 GWh deficit in Japan. This has forced Tepco to engage in an aggressive energy saving campaign that involves the cooperation of businesses and households all over Japan. Businesses have down scaled their energy consumption either by closing early or by reducing consumption by using less electricity. Households have also contributed to the generalized energy saving campaign by using less appliances and rationing their electricity consumption.
On march 11, the day the earthquake occurred, electricity rationings were scheduled right away. Losing 29,891 GWh was a considerable energy deficit that had to be attended rapidly. 3-4 hour scheduled blackouts where programmed but they only happened during the first week after the earthquake, the immediate response of the community towards an energy consumption reduction was almost instantaneous.
The above bar is provided by TEPCO, this bar shows the current electric consumption vs the available electric supply. The 2%+ surplus prevents the city of Tokyo of undergoing the scheduled blackouts. This information is supplied on a daily basis by TEPCO, and you can find it on the Yahoo Japan website.
Vending machines have a large footprint on the electric consumption, and reducing their use can greatly contribute to energy saving. Since the 90’s this has been a well known fact by vending machine manufacturers, for that reason they have greatly improved the refrigeration technologies, and in the last 20 years energy consumption has been reduced by half. However, the real challenge is to reduce it 36% more by 2012, a goal set by the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association 日本自販機工業会 (JVMA). This reduction in energy consumption after the Fukushima accident has become a real urgency, hopefully the JVMA will reach it by next year.
The challenge to reduce energy consumption in Japan is not only a responsibility of vending machine manufacturers it is also a collective mission that should engage every individual into saving more energy and resources everyday.