Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lowering Your Energy Bill with Bitter Melon (Goya)

Welcome back to JJNN.

This post is about an article that appears in the Yomiuri's online edition.

Saving electricity has become a big thing in Japan ever since the major earthquake that happened in March. With the partial meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and the shut down of many other nuclear power plants it is hard for TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) to keep up with the everyday power demands of the people they are suppose to be providing with electricity. The situation got so dire after the earthquake that there were scheduled power outages for wide areas that went on for about a month.

Luckily (not really lucky for the environment though) TEPCO got some coal fired power plants up and running to make up some of the difference, but there is probably going to be more scheduled power outages during the summer when people start using air conditioners. That is where the good people of the "Nagareyama Committee for the Advancement of Bitter Melon Curtains" come in.

Sure, their committee name may be a mouthful, but they are doing what they can to help take a step closer to nature (without actually hugging any trees) and save some money on their home's energy bill. The committee passes out the seeds to a vine known as the bitter melon or the bitter gourd. The vine itself can grow to up to 5 meters in length and it produces a fruit that is extremely bitter. You may be wondering what a vine that bares bitter fruit has to do with saving money on heating and saving electricity. Well, the picture below might help solve that mystery.

A house covered in Bitter Melon vines
 The theory is that if a house is covered in a leafy vine, like the one from the Bitter Melon, it will reflect away enough of the sunlight from the exterior wall of the house that the temperature inside the house will go down. A cooler house leads to less use of air conditioners and other coolers, which leads to less use of electricity. People in Nagareyama are really jumping on the this method to save electricity as well. Last year 360 houses were given 1500 vines in total, but this year 1970 houses have applied to get the free vines, which is about 5 times more houses than the committee was counting on.

It really is an interesting way to be environmentally friendly and also save a buck (or yen or what ever currency you want). Not only does it help cool the house in the summer and maybe keep the house warm in the winter (by acting as another layer of insulation), but the plant also takes CO2 out of the air and produces fruit that can be eaten (even though it is bitter). All in all it sounds like a good plan to me.

It is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 蔓(つる). It is pronounced tsuru and it means vine.. Of course this can be done with any vine that will grow long enough to cover an entire building, but I think the Bitter Melon is probably the way to go.

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