Natural lighting system is brightening Japan
BY KAZUMI TAKO STAFF WRITER
The dining room of Shoji Moriguchi's home in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. Family members say that they don't need to turn on the lights during the day because the Skylighttube keeps the room bright enough. (Kazumi Tako)Noboru Inoue, president of Inosyo Co., shows the material he developed to install the Skylighttube in roofs. "Preventing a leak is the most important part of the work," he said. (Kazumi Tako)
OTSU -- When Shoji Moriguchi had the Skylighttube installed in the ceiling of his home in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, in 2004, it was like turning night into day.
Previously, his dining room, which faces north, would be dark all day and a family member wanting to read the newspaper would have to switch on the lights. Now, the Skylighttube collects light in a dome on the roof and spreads it evenly into the room.
"Even on a rainy day, the room is brighter with the Skylighttube than with bulbs," said Moriguchi, 53, a company employee. "We were not required to do maintenance for the past seven years."
The use of the power-saving Skylighttube, introduced by Inosyo, a firm in Otsu, is spreading gradually among households and company factories.
Inosyo has installed 2,500 units for homes and 700 units for factories, and posted 100 million yen ($1.3 million) in sales for the year ending in August.
"The market for the Skylighttube will grow to 10 billion yen in 10 years," said Noboru Inoue, 59, president of Inosyo. "I would like to build a society that uses zero energy."
Inoue said interest in the Skylighttube surged out of concern over possible power shortages in the wake of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The number of inquiries about the equipment shot up to more than 60 a month after the disaster, many of them businesses, compared with about 20 before the disaster.
An official with FamilyMart Co., a convenience store operator, said that customers viewed the equipment installed in some of its stores in Tokyo positively.
The Skylighttube works by gathering light in a dome placed on the roof of a home. The light passes through an aluminum tube that extends into the room. The brightness of light collected in the dome remains the same inside the tube as the light is reflected.
The Skylighttube can also spread light evenly with a special cover, compared with a skylight, whose illumination level varies depending on the time of day.
Another advantage of the Skylighttube is that it can eliminate more than 97 percent of ultraviolet rays. Thus, tatami mats and furniture are protected from darkening over the years from the accumulated effects of the rays.
It also helps keeps heat out of the home or building, preventing the room temperature from rising.
Inosyo, which has 12 employees, began offering the equipment for households in 2004 and the larger version aimed for businesses in 2007.
The Skylighttube is estimated to save 7,000 yen to 10,000 yen per unit a year on electricity costs.
Installation charges are about 250,000 yen for one that can illuminate an eight-tatami-mat room, but it requires no maintenance costs afterward, the company said.
Cosmetic giant Shiseido Co. introduced 82 units for areas measuring 4,200 square meters in the storage area of its factory in Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, in May last year.
A company official said that the light coming from the 7-meter-high ceiling is as bright as the mercury lamps that it has replaced.
With the introduction of the equipment, the company is saving 90,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year and cutting back on 34.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Shiseido first learned of the innovative lighting system at a lighting exhibition in Tokyo.
The company is considering the use of the equipment in other factories, saying that it has proved "more effective than expected."
Apart from Shiseido, a large undergarment firm has adopted the Skylighttube for the office section of its factory.
Inoue hit upon the idea for the Skylighttube in the mid-1990s after a client complained about the lack of brightness in his house even on a sunny day.
But he had a difficult time finding material to reflect sunlight efficiently and transmit it into a room.
When he was about to abandon the idea, he came across Solatube Australia, a company dealing in natural lighting system products, through an acquaintance.
He obtained the domes designed to gather light and aluminum tubes after Inosyo signed a deal with the Australian company in 2003.
But Japanese homes, many of which are roofed with ovalized tiles, posed a challenge for installation without being prone to leaking.
Inosyo finally came up with special components for the equipment to be affixed tightly after working on more than 100 types of material.
Two years after the launch of the product in the Kansai region, Inosyo received an order from an individual in Iwate Prefecture, in the Tohoku region.
It could have paved the way for the company to expand its market, but Inosyo had at that time limited staff for sales promotion.
So the company decided to provide contractors in the region with a training session to teach them how to install its equipment.
Now, more than 370 companies across the nation, most of them construction companies, are offering the Skylighttube for households.