Japan's Oil Decoupling
Japan's oil imports today total about 4.25 million barrels per day, compared to 5 million in 1973. The change is even more dramatic when oil consumption is compared to GDP growth. During the booming 1960s, oil use grew at about twice the growth rate of inflated-adjusted, or real, GDP. But between the first and second oil crises in the 1970s, real GDP growth started to outpace oil usage. Then the trend reversed: From 1979 to 1989, oil use fell by 14% while real GDP rose by 27%. Since 1989, oil use has risen, but not as fast as output.
Japan's efforts have saved immense amounts of energy. Today's GDP would require about 40% more energy per year than is actually used, if Japan had languished at 1975 efficiency levels. Converted to barrels of oil and valued at today's oil prices, this energy saving amounts to about 16 trillion yen ($140 billion) per year.
This decoupling from oil came first from conservation. In particular, successive Japanese governments redesigned cities to encourage public transportation and high density. Auto companies kept developing high mileage engines even when oil prices fell. Oil saving was also promoted by a host of public programs and incentives. The move toward nuclear power accelerated with the 1974 laws on electric power supply, for instance. Overall conservation was accelerated with the 1979 'Law Concerning Rational Use of Energy.'
Japan's decoupling from oil is also a story of deliberate diversification of energy sources, both among fossil fuels and away from fossil fuels as a whole, as the nearby table shows. As an additional benefit, Japan is also a leader in nuclear technology today, a lucrative business.
The change in the level and composition of fossil fuel dependence has reduced the vulnerability of Japan to energy shocks. Of course, the prices of all fossil fuels tend to move together, but timing lags among the different types of fossil fuels can give the economy significant adjustment room.
Yet despite remarkable progress, Japan is not free of energy worries yet. Japan still imports 82% of its primary energy, down only five percentage points in 35 years. With oil hovering around $90 a barrel, there is likely to be another major shift away from oil. Since the end of 2003, retail gasoline prices are up by about 40%, and total passenger car sales are down about 6%, even though real wage income is up by about 2%.
If history is any guide, Japan is likely to outperform other countries in adjusting to high oil prices. Japanese companies and the government have demonstrated their ability to pursue many technology alternatives. In May last year, the cabinet pledged to improve household appliance efficiency by a further 30% on average over the next 25 years, and to raise the share of electric power from nuclear plants to as much as 40%, up from 30% today. Achieving these goals would allow virtual elimination of oil as a source of power generation.
As a result of such policies, the Japanese government can expect to enjoy a greater cushion from the economic pressures of rising oil prices than most governments could hope for. The challenge will be to exploit that maneuvering room to continue other needed economic reforms, such as pension, tax and agricultural policy, to name a few. Just reducing Japan's overreliance on oil won't be enough to fuel growth for the future.
Robert Alan Feldman
日 本現在的石油進口量為每天425萬桶﹐而1973年為500萬桶。如果將石油消耗量與GDP增幅作一對比﹐這一變化就更引人矚目了。在經濟飛速發展的上世 紀60年代﹐日本石油消費量的增長速度約為經通貨膨脹因素調整後GDP(或實際GDP)增速的兩倍。但在70年代的先後兩次石油危機中﹐實際GDP的增長 速度開始超過石油用量的增速。隨後形勢發生了逆轉﹕1979至1989年間﹐石油使用量下降了14%﹐而同期實際GDP則上漲了27%。1989年後﹐石 油用量又開始增加﹐但上漲幅度趕不上GDP增幅。
日 本得以減輕對石油的依賴首先要歸功於節能。具體來說﹐歷屆日本政府都致力於城市的重新規劃﹐鼓勵發展公共交通和提高人口居住密度。汽車公司一直在努力開發 低油耗發動機﹐即便在油價下跌的時期也不例外。一係列公共項目和獎勵措施也促進了節油。比如1974年製定的電力供應法便加快了核電的發展。1979年的 《合理使用能源法》(Law Concerning Rational Use of Energy)則促進了全面節能。
不 過﹐雖然取得了顯著的成就﹐日本還沒有達到安枕無憂的地步。其一次性能源仍有82%依賴進口﹐在35年內只下降了五個百分點。隨著油價在每桶90美元左右 徘徊﹐日本在擺脫石油方面有可能再掀高潮。自2003年底以來﹐汽油零售價上漲了40%左右﹐而小汽車的總體銷量則下滑了約6%﹐雖然實際工資收入增加了 2%。
如果歷史可以為鑒﹐日本可能會比其他國家更好地適應高油價局面。日本的企業和政府已經顯示出它們有能力採用多種替代技術。日本內閣 去年5月宣稱﹐要在未來25年內將家用電器的能效平均提高30%﹐並將核電佔總發電量的比重從目前的30%提高到40%。如果達到這些目標﹐就可以實現不 再利用石油發電。
Robert Alan Feldman
（編者按﹕本文作者為Morgan Stanley Japan Ltd.的經濟研究主管）