Panasonic: Going green key to staying in the black

Japanese electronics firm believes eco-friendly products will power its next stage of growth, and points to offerings with monitoring and demand-response management technology as the way forward.
Written by Ryan Huang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Panasonic is banking on eco-friendly products to revive its growth. Areas where the Japanese electronics firm sees huge potential include offerings which allow consumers to monitor their usage and deploy systems capable of responding to their needs.

Specifically, Yoshiyuki Miyabe, managing director and CTO of Panasonic, pointed to visualization tools which he said would push consumer adoption of green technology.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in an interview this week on the sidelines of Singapore International Energy Week 2012, Miyabe said: "It's a bit like driving a car, where you have a speedometer which lets you know how fast you are going.

"If users can see at a glance what they are consuming, they will be more aware of how much they use and be more compelled to respond," he explained.

To tap this niche, Panasonic in August launched in Japan a range of home appliances featuring an option which allows users to access a control panel via their smartphones using near-field communication (NFC). They can also check on their electricity usage and other consumption statistics.

Miyabe said the range of products currently supporting this function includes washing machines, kitchen appliances, and healthcare devices. Plans to export these to other markets were still being studied, he added.

Demand response systems to take off
Low Beng Huat, general manager of environment and external affairs at Panasonic, also pointed to demand-response systems as a common fixture in future households.

Low, who was in the same interview, explained such systems would allow consumers to curtail their energy usage in respond to peak load times, and generate cost savings.

"For example, during peak electricity usage times, the temperature setting on your air conditioner might automatically go up by a bit to consume less power," he explained.

A smart meter gives readings every 30 minutes and sends the information to the grid operator, allowing them to make use of dynamic pricing plans in response to peak usage. (source: EMA website)

He said such technology was seeing increasing user interest, adding that a consultation exercise was launched here on Monday to seek public feedback on the feasibility of deploying such systems in Singapore households.

Low said government incentives are important to encourage consumers to go green, and this consultation initiative was one example.

Panasonic is currently testbedding its Home Energy Management System (HEMS) and air conditioners with demand-response function in Singapore's Punggol Eco Town--a residential project in the island's northeast, he said.

"There are 10 households in the project, and we will study their response over one year," he said.

The HEMS product would also allow consumers to study and control their usage.

The system potentially could be sold to property developers to be pre-installed in new homes, or be sold as an add-on option when purchasing Panasonic products, he added.

Low pointed out the system was designed over an open standard, called ZigBee, which would allow other products to be interoperate with HEMS.

With tightening regulations and standards over energy consumption, Low was optimistic it would only be a matter of time before such systems would become mandatory for households.

Going green crucial in Panasonic's future
Panasonic, for one, is banking on such green products to boost its earnings.

For the Asia-Pacific market, the Japanese vendor is targeting for its eco-friendly products to account for 80 percent of total sales by March 2013, up from the current 70 percent.

Since 2007, the company has been gearing its business toward a more eco-friendly direction, Low noted.

Miyabe said: "We want to show it is possible to integrate environmental sustainability with business growth." He highlighted Panasonic's vision to be the leading green innovation company by 2018, to mark its 100th anniversary.

This will be important part in sustaining Panasonic's future growth as it aims to return to profitability, he pointed out.

The company had made a loss of US$9.7 billion for its fiscal year, ended Mar. 31, 2012.

Miyabe added the company was on track to develop at least one "eco ideas" plant in each country across the region, along with a manufacturing site. Last week, Vietnam joined this list which already includes Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

An "eco ideas" plant carries capabilities which meet Panasonic's green requirements such as energy-efficiency and waste recycling. It is also utilized in outreach activities to raise the level of eco-consciousness in the community.

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