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Eiji Oishi, UPDATER: “the lack of visibility of the people behind the production process may contribute to societal issues”

When it comes to sustainable energy, using best practices differs between companies.

Failing to show the faces of those who help maintain the energy in a community causes a disconnect between the provider and the user. The lack of trust is one factor that may contribute to societal issues on a local and nationwide scale.

Promoting programs that aid in the adoption of renewable energy is the next step in providing power for and empowering communities. That might be a challenge when there isn’t a stable pricing plan for electricity.

By increasing the number of renewable energy power plants and maintaining transparency, users can develop a trust relationship with their energy company.

To learn more about the transition to sustainable power sources, Cybernews team interviewed Eiji Oishi, CEO and Founder of UPDATER, – A traceable electricity service aimed at providing renewable energy adoption throughout Japan.

Let’s go back to the very beginning of UPDATER. What has the journey been like over the years?

The beginning of UPDATER can be traced back to when the CEO, Eiji Oishi, saw someone wearing a keychain with a solar panel attached to it. He was riding the subway, and his cellphone was almost dead. He had a flash of inspiration, thinking, "It would be great if I could buy the electricity that person is generating." Subsequently, in conjunction with the initiation of power liberalization in Japan in 2016, UPDATER started its "traceable electricity" service.

We have been procuring electricity from renewable energy power plants nationwide. Our goal is to promote the introduction of renewable energy in Japan. We do so by supplying homes, businesses and wholesaling to local community power providers.

Could you introduce us to what you do? What differentiates you from other electricity retailers in the market?

UPDATER's decarbonization service, "Minna Denryoku," procures electricity from about 700 power plants that deliver renewable electricity nationwide. It's sourced from solar, hydro, wind, and biomass plants as "traceable electricity," disclosing the faces and stories of producers.

The collected electricity isn't only supplied through our retail services. It also contributes to the nationwide promotion of renewable energy through wholesale supply to local community power providers and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) initiatives.

In 2018, we commercialized the P2P power tracking system called "ENECTION 2.0" for corporate use. It matches power generation and demands every 30 minutes. It also utilizes blockchain technology to prove "the source and quantity of electricity purchased." This system ensures transparency in renewable energy and prevents greenwashing.

Can you provide an overview of Minna Electric Power and its mission as an electricity retail service provider in Japan?

In our pursuit of carbon neutrality, Minna Denryoku is not only focused on power-switching but also looking ahead to the next phase of renewable energy. We aim to achieve stable pricing for renewable energy and increase the number of renewable energy power plants.

To accomplish this, we're engaged in several initiatives, such as procuring non-FIT (Feed-in Tariff) sources without relying on public burden. We're collaborating with businesses that consume electricity to establish new power plants through Corporate Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).

Corporate PPAs involve long-term power purchase agreements ranging from 5 to 20 years. It's between the consumer and the power generation operator, promoting the development of new renewable energy power plants. We utilize our unique P2P power tracking system. It leverages blockchain technology to facilitate designated power purchases within the Corporate PPA scheme.

How did the recent global events affect your work and your industry?

Since the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the environment surrounding new electricity providers in Japan has undergone significant changes. The stock prices on JEPX(Japan Electric Power Exchange) soared to more than eight times the previous year's prices in January 2021. As a result of the market price surge, many companies in the new electricity industry, including established players, regardless of their size, faced financial difficulties.

UPDATER also experienced the impact of market conditions. We suffered significant damage in the first half of 2022 because of a rise in the Japan electric power exchange. Consequently, we implemented three price increases starting in 2022. Still, there were very few cancellations.

The reason behind this is that UPDATER's customers highly value the aspect of "traceable" renewable energy. Furthermore, each time we increased prices, we took the time to explain to our customers, in detail, why the electricity costs were rising, and they have shown understanding and support as a result.

Could you provide more details about your support program? How does it support energy suppliers and local businesses?

By subscribing to Minna Denryoku, you have the opportunity to support your preferred power plant every month. When you choose to "support" a power plant, an automatic monthly contribution of ¥100 gets deducted from your electricity bill. It's then directed as support funds to the chosen power plant.

Through this support, you can receive rewards such as vegetables, rice, and other items that renewable electricity producers grow. You can also participate in power plant tours and networking events with electricity producers. This fosters a connection between the power plants and consumers. This communication creates a unique bond between the power plants and the consumers.

How do you prioritize sustainability and environmentally friendly practices in daily operations?

Our business is driven by a concern that the lack of visibility of the people behind the production process may contribute to societal issues. Problems like climate change, poverty, as well as mental and physical health issues.

The concept of "traceability" or "making faces visible" involves bringing transparency to the journey of consumption by revealing the production backgrounds. For example, who's involved, their motivations, and the environments in which they operate.

By making these production aspects transparent, we aim to create a deeper understanding of the products and services we consume. This transparency allows consumers to make more informed choices and fosters a connection between the consumers and the producers. It promotes a sense of shared responsibility and accountability toward the social and environmental impacts of our consumption habits.

How do you envision the future of your industry unfolding? What emerging trends or developments are you most excited about and hopeful for?

Currently, the majority of renewable energy circulating in Japan is referred to as "Electricity products with anonymous electricity using unbundled certificates." This means that even if fossil fuels get used in the generation process, they can be labeled as "practical renewable energy" by purchasing non-fossil fuel certificates (NFFC). While this concept may be unfamiliar to many in Japan, it's well-known among global companies.

Many companies are not fond of Electricity products with anonymous electricity using unbundled certificates. Due to this background, many RE100 companies in Japan use Minna Denryoku. RE100 companies are large corporations that commit to procuring 100% renewable electricity and accelerating the shift towards a zero-carbon future.

Our role is to gather small-scale decentralized power plants and effectively circulate money within the local community. Thus, contributing to regionally rooted renewable energy initiatives.

Would you like to share what’s next for UPDATER?

We are taking on the challenge of expanding the technology we have developed through "traceable electricity" to realize a "traceable lifestyle." We aim to promote visibility in various aspects of life.

That includes decarbonization, well-being, and ethical consumption. By advancing visibility in different areas of daily life, we seek to accelerate the sustainability transformation of both corporations and individuals. Ultimately, we're working towards solving societal problems.

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