Let Top-Runners set Energy Efficiency Standards



In its bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Japan has introduced 'top-runner targets', which have proven highly effective and worth considering by legislators in other countries. Under this scheme, manufacturers and importers of cars and major appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators, televisions and computers sold in Japan are required to meet energy efficiency standards equivalent to the most energy-efficient model currently on the market in each product category. Basing standards on best possible performance has improved the energy efficiency of new appliances and products in Japan by up to 78%.


The idea: 

Japan's top-runner approach sets efficiency targets at the level of the most energy-efficient model currently on the market in each product category. Setting targets in this way improves the energy efficiency of new appliances and cars by up to 78%. If legislators in other countries followed Japan's example and introduced top-runner standards, the energy savings could potentially be huge.

The Japanese standards were established in a 1998 revision to the Energy Conservation Law and consecutive government ordinances. They are defined for a large number of product categories, configurations and capacities. Products included in the Top-Runner program are: passenger cars and trucks, air conditioners, refrigerators, fluorescent lights, televisions, video cassette recorders, photocopiers, computers and magnetic hard-disk drives. Manufacturers and importers have to fulfill the targets based on the sales-weighted average of their product thus taking into account which products have the largest share of sales. The targets have to be met between 2003 and 2010, and fines are specified in the law for those manufacturers and importers who do not meet the targets.

Setting energy-efficiency standards based on top-runner performance is easier than setting them according to the product with the lowest life-cycle cost. The latter is the usual procedure in the USA and EU, but requires extensive studies of life-cycle cost-effectiveness of energy efficiency improvements. In contrast, it took Japan only half a year to define its top-runner targets.

Japan's Top-Runner standards have resulted in:

  • Energy efficiency improvements compared to the base year range from 6.5% (for diesel trucks, based on km/l) to 78% (for magnetic hard-disk drives, based on Watts/Gigabyte).

  • Improvements levels for fluorescent lights are 17%, for refrigerators 30% and for heat-pump air conditioners 63%.

  • Improvements for passenger cars of 15% (diesel) and 23% (gasoline) will be achieved.