While it's to be expected that rising summer temperatures would drive up energy demand, the heat wave that baked much of the nation last week set new records for peak power consumption.
Energy grid operators PJM Interconnection and Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator reported levels of usage so unprecedented that some feared blackouts. And although cooler temperatures will provide some relief this week, long-term energy demand is only expected to increase by as much as 21 percent in the next two decades, a worrisome scenario that may spark a renewed a call for nuclear power, according to a report in CBS News.
However, this controversial proposal has since been further complicated by an earthquake-generated tsunami back in March that triggered the meltdown of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, a devastating disaster that has brought into question the safety of nuclear technology and forced a reassessment of it's role in powering one of the most technologically-advanced societies in the world.
Yet perhaps then that's where Americans should look to figure out how best to handle such a conundrum. In the aftermath, the grief-stricken nation requested that companies cut energy consumption by 15 percent to avoid blackouts. And with power shortages now a way of life, a rapidly growing number of residents and companies have hit upon a novel, but cost-effective solution for dealing with a new reality that doesn't include air conditioning (or at least very little of it).
The answer: air conditioned clothing or more specifically, specially designed shirts, jackets and beds that come with built-in battery-powered electric fans that are -- for the lack of a better word -- selling like hotcakes.
Kuchofuku Company, which manufactures the products, has already seen sales of it's line of air-conditioned garments double compared to last year. A total of 40,000 air-cooled gear -- and counting -- have been sold and close to 1,000 local companies have used the merchandise, according to a report in AFP. The company also said that a government official even attempted to place an order for half-a-million jackets, but was denied due to a lack of resources to meet demands for such an incredibly high volume.
According to the AFP report:
The fans in the Kuchofuku jacket are connected to a lithium-ion battery pack that lasts for 11 hours on a single charge, consuming only a fraction of the power used by conventional air-conditioning, said company president Hiroshi Ichigaya.
Ichigaya says that his clothing offers a counter-intuitive solution: that by wearing more, a person can feel cooler than if baring it all.
"People are now trying to wear as little as possible in such campaigns as Super Cool Biz, but wearing more Kuchofuku makes you feel much cooler," Ichigaya told AFP.
The jackets cost the Japanese yen equivalent of $140 dollars and although it's unlikely many people living in the U.S. are at the point yet where they wouldn't mind looking like the Michelin man in a public place like the office, at least we know that when push comes to shove, there are some creative ways to take some pressure off the grid without an unsavory trade-off like heat suffocation.
Anyone interested in Kuchofuku products can order the air-conditioned bed through the Japan Trends web site (Sorry, but the air-conditioned shirt is sold out). And if any of this technology is a bit too rich for your blood, there's also cheaper alternatives like those disposable can-dispensed cooling foams.
Now I have to ask, what do you folks think of these ideas?
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