Carrying Hokkaido snow to Tokyo for cooling fails

JAPAN - Trucks and trains used to transport snow from Hokkaido to Tokyo to determine the feasibility of using snow for air cooling emitted three times more carbon dioxide than the emission reductions achieved in the experiment, it has been found.

The finding came to light in trials conducted by the Environment Ministry to use snow from Hokkaido to help cool facilities in Tokyo under a project to help reduce CO2 emissions, a major cause of global warming.

The ministry carried out a similar test this year using a shorter course. In November, the adequacy of the project was criticised by government panel of experts tasked with examining budgetary appropriations for government policies and projects.

Snow air conditioners lower the temperature by placing snow in a water tank and circulating the cool air through air-conditioning systems.

The ministry launched the three-year trial in fiscal 2012 at a cost of ¥370 million, believing "the system would be able to cut CO2 emissions by 30 per cent, compared to the amount emitted by electric air conditioners."

In fiscal 2012, a snow air conditioner system was used at the Imperial Hotel for a month from Sept. 13, between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The snow used for the system was brought all the way from Hokkaido, which is about 1,230 kilometers from Tokyo, almost daily . It took about 1½ days for trucks and trains to carry about four tons of snow.

According to the figure calculated by the ministry, transporting the snow produced about 120 kilograms of CO2 emissions, while the amount of emissions cut by the snow air condition was only about 40 kilograms per day. The CO2 emission reduction project thus had the opposite of the intended effect.

During a meeting on Nov. 14 of a government expert committee tasked with reviewing the use of the nation's budget, committee members posed questions about the project, such as, "Why didn't [the ministry] precisely calculate the amount of [CO2] emissions beforehand?"

The ministry countered, saying: "The project is merely a trial. It's important to become aware of all factors before a full introduction of the system as a business." The ministry added: "The experiment clarified that carrying a small amount of snow more than 250 kilometers was inefficient."

As a result, the Environment Ministry shifted the source of snow to Kai, Yamanashi Prefecture, which is about 190 kilometers from the Imperial Hotel. Although the results of the trial will not be compiled until the end of this fiscal year, the ministry believes the countermeasure is effective in reduced CO2 emissions.

According to a member of a Sapporo-based nonprofit organisation that targets global warming and the "heat island" phenomenon through the use of snow and ice, measures such as increasing the number of places that use snow, as well as reusing snow after it is used for cold storage, will help reduce CO2 emissions.

Kazuhiro Ueda, a professor at Kyoto University who specializes in environmental economics said: "The effort to use natural energy in various places and occasions is not itself wrongheaded, but natural resources are specific to certain regions. Therefore, the ministry should have more seriously considered how the snow would be transported."