TT-503 -- Wind Turbine Venture, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, February 01, 2009 Issue No. 503


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming events
- Corrections/Feedback
- News credits

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An NHK program several weeks ago quoted passers-by saying
how they wish Japan had a visionary whom they could vote
into power like the U.S. has Barack Obama. Certainly there
seems to be a paucity of viable candidates, which is why
we think Taro Aso will probably squeak in for another term
in the top job come the elections later this year.

What makes people shine to Obama is his promise for change
and also his personal values, which represent a 180-degree
about face from the Bush years. This change is no more
obvious than in the area of alternative energy. Obama has
made alt energy a central plank of his campaign platform,
and now that he is President, his first stimulus budget
includes some major support for oil alternatives.

In pursuing this course, Obama appears to be trying to
capture the imagination of a fresh generation of companies
and the people who work for them -- and get the economy
moving again. Indeed, his goal is to double renewable
energy to about 10% of the U.S. total energy production by
2012 and to create up to 5m jobs along the way. Further,
he is planning to also put on the road 1m hybrid cars by
2015. This has got a lot of people very excited, and state
governments and companies all over the USA are now making
plans to become the next major "green" center in America.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

While Japan doesn't have an Obama, it does have smart
businesspeople and bureaucrats, and loyal politicians.
Thus, if the Americans say that green is good, then it is
probably fair to say that the Japanese will as well --
especially because they will be hoping to be part of the
supply chain for the resulting bonanza in U.S. government
subsidies and spending. "Green" products sell for more,
will require different practices to produce (this is coming
and will be related to each product's manufacturing carbon
footprint), and there is more thought put into design.

The current trends then, bode well for the alt energy
market here in Japan. There is no doubt that the sexy
portion of the alt energy market is Photovoltaics (PVs)
and fuel cells. Partly this is by virtue of the fact that big
money is required to create the factories that create the
products, and big money has budget for PR, and partly
due to the convenience of such products and their ability
to dovetail into existing energy distribution systems and
make those systems more efficient.

Lower down the sexiness scale are biomass gas generators
and wind energy generators. Although both of these
technologies are well developed, they are currently really
only viable on a massive scale, and not that many people
can afford a 20m high boom supporting massive and noisy
turbine blades in their back yard. Well, not at least until
the most recent crop of alt energy start-ups began making
small wind turbines (SWTs) in roof top versions.

One such supplier here in Japan, a company which is a good
example of the state of the market and the potential for
good ideas even though it doesn't have massive
manufacturing capability, is Zephyr Corporation. This
company, which is based in Hatsudai, Shibuya-ku, developed
in 2006 a design which strengthens the turbine assembly
against strong gusts, and yet which is also highly
efficient in light breezes. The product is called the
Airdolphin, and this along with other products is small
enough to fit on the roof of most modern apartment
buildings and houses. Apparently one turbine can produce
enough electricity (100kWh-200kWh under an average wind
speed of 6m/s) to pay for around 30% of an average
(Japanese) family's energy needs.

The company started in 1997 and for a while struggled to
get a product out. It's defining moment came last year
when the Japanese arm of a Swedish fund, Investor Growth
Capital Asia Ltd., invested JPY500m into them. While this
may not seem much, particularly compared to alt energy
companies in other countries which are receiving tens of
millions of dollars, it appears to have been enough for
Zephyr to bring to market its latest design: a device
which can be controlled over the Internet so that the owner
can have the device respond to changing weather conditions.

We don't know how well Zephyr's sales are going. Back in
2008 the Nikkei said they did a bit over JPY300m -- which
means they sold about 300 units that year. Zephyr reckons
they have about 40% of the Japanese market for SWTs, so
it's a small market. This is not surprising, because at
JPY1.3m-JPY1.6m for a device capable of generating 1kWh of
electricity, the pay-back period for an average family is
around 5-6 years -- a long period for a mechanical device
which can break. In contrast, although PVs have a longer
pay-back period of 10 years, they are likely to last for 20.
Perhaps from this April when the government is supposed to
be introducing subsidies for consumers making alt energy
investments for their homes, then the resulting lowered
costs may push up sales further. In the meantime the
company is developing its overseas markets.

We were interested to see that the Swedes like Zephyr
enough to invest and become the firm's largest outside
shareholder (at least in terms of amount invested).
However, it is hard to see how Zephyr will be able to go
into manufacturing on a major scale on such a small amount
of money. Therefore, we assume that they will either
licence their technology out to a major manufacturer after
proving the market, or they will be bought out for the
value of their IP.

An investment fund wouldn't see a buy-out as being
attractive, and so perhaps they hope that Zephyr will IPO
on the strength of its intellectual property (IP), rather
than its manufacturing and marketing ability. If Zephyr is
able to keep coming up with more innovations of the nature
of its internet-controlled roof top versions, then they
could be viable for an IPO on the basis of their being an
alt energy ideas lab rather than manufacturer. This would
be interesting, as it would provide a model for other small
start-ups who are short on capital.


Looking to start a company? Then you'll be happy to know
that our quarterly Japan Inc. Entrepreneur Handbook Seminar
will be back on February 14th. The time, location (Shibuya)
and other details can be found at:

Terrie's Take is proud to be a supporter of The Japan
Helpline. To get help 24 hours assistance with any problem,
any time, go to and click `help`.

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...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- DBJ to buy shares in private companies?
- Nintendo earnings soar
- London's AIM market to start in Tokyo
- Hitachi to suffer huge loss
- Health job vacancies rise

-> DBJ to buy shares in private companies?

Following a proposal from the Ministry of Economy, Trade,
and Industry (METI), the Development Bank of Japan (DBJ),
a government-owned bank currently being privatized, has
said that it will buy stakes in exporting companies which
are short of operating funds due to the current
international economic crisis. The bank is proposing to
buy both preferred and common shares in companies, but will
require the recipients to show that they can improve their
profitability within 3 years before doing so. ***Ed:
Although the DBJ says it will raise funds privately to buy
the shares, rather than use public funds, we find it hard
to believe that the separation from state sponsorship will
last long. Already it appears that these investments will
be 50%-80% government-guaranteed, so making them is is a
safe bet for the DBJ.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 28, 2009)

-> Nintendo earnings soar

While major consumer electronics maker Sony has stumbled
and announced a projected multi-billion dollar loss for
FY2008, it is an interesting contrast that video game maker
Nintendo will report strong earnings for Q4 of 2008. The
company apparently sold 2.14m Wii consoles in the USA in
December, pushing the company's 2008 U.S. total to 10.17m
units. Further, the company sold 3.04m DS units in December
in the USA -- keeping the portable device in the Number One
console position for the year. Nintendo reckons it will
record a net profit of JPY345bn (US$3.9bn) for FY2008,
through March 31st, 2009. Sales were up 20% to JPY2trn
(US$22.5bn). ***Ed: We spoke to the BBC last week as to why
Nintendo was up and Sony and other Japanese mainstream
firms were so down. The reason we gave was simple, lack of
hit products. Sony needs to have an iPod moment and stop
following everyone else -- a role better suited to low-cost
Chinese makers.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jan
27, 2009)

-> London's AIM market to start in Tokyo

The London Stock Exchange's popular AIM stock market for
smaller firms is planning to set up in Tokyo this spring.
AIM is popular because it has kept its rules to the basics
and requires a lower cost to list than other international
markets. The new market will be created in cooperation with
the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and is the latest TSE effort to
re-envigorate the ailing local markets for small companies.
***Ed: Unfortunately, the Tokyo AIM market will be limited
to "professional investors" who have one year's trading
experience. We're not sure what that means, but by limiting
the number of traders in the market the TSE appears to be
setting the operation up for a meager start. Further, the
TSE needs to revisit the apparently groundless rule that
traders need to be resident in Japan. We could never
understand why it makes a difference, since once a Japanese
listed company has the investor's money, what does the TSE
care where the person lives?** (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 28, 2009)

-> Hitachi to suffer huge loss

Broad based energy, engineering, and electronics
conglomerate, Hitachi Ltd., has said that it will record an
annual loss of JPY700bn for FY2008. The company says that
since October, it has seen its business situation worsen at
"unprecedented speed". All seven divisions have been hit,
but none worse than auto parts, which will suffer a 12%
downturn in sales from the last quarter alone. Power
generation, construction machinery, electricals, chips, and
consumer electronics are also in bad shape. On top of the
operating losses, Hitachi is also taking hits for tax
increases, FX losses, affiliate losses (Renesas), and plant
write-downs. ***Ed: It's not looking good, which is a
shame, because for our part we've witnessed a major change
in attitude (greater willingness to do business on
commercial merits rather than insider connections) by the
folks at Hitachi. On the bright side, we can hope that the
current management are trying to bring all the bad news at
the same time, instead of sweeping it under the carpet.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Jan 31, 2009)

-> Health job vacancies rise

Reflecting the old saw, "Health, Education, and Repair jobs
rise in a recession" a government labor report has
identified mounting vacancies in the medical sector, even
as unemployment is rising in manufacturing and other
sectors. Labor figures show that overall unemployment
jumped by 0.5% to 4.4% in December, the sharpest rate of
increase in 41 years, and the ratio of jobs to job seekers
in manufacturing is now 0.2. For health care, however, the
rate for skilled health care workers is 1.91, while for
maternity nurses it is even higher at 2.85. ***Ed: We find
it ironic that the ratio of vacancies for home helpers and
other low-skilled home health care positions is also a high
2.47. We think this is most likely a direct result of the
vacuum left behind after the government catalyzed the
collapse of Goodwill Corporation in 2007. In retrospect,
the government should have taken control of the company
after it was caught breaking the labor law, and sought a
competitor to take it over while it was still intact.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Jan 31, 2009)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.

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In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

*** No feedback or corrections this week. However, we have
been asked to run a special request for a local businessman
doing his Masters and needing a base of international
business people to survey. If you think you can help him by
completing the survey, please visit the survey site or
email him at His message is as follows:

"Hello Everyone, my name is Peter MacInnes and I'm one of
the founding directors of the Tokyo-based design and
marketing company FLUID. I am currently working on my
master's degree dissertation in Information Security with
the University of London, and my chosen field of research
is securing a wireless network within a smal- to
medium-size company in Japan. I need to identify current
threats and issues that companies face in trying to secure
their networks. You can find the survey here and it should only take about
ten minutes to complete. Any and all responses would be
greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for your time.


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