Much to the delight of the petroleum industry, consumers eager to save on electricity this winter are turning to two tried-and-true favorites: kerosene heaters and oil fan heaters.
The heaters are the hottest-selling items in recent months as the central government is encouraging the public to save energy this winter, citing possible disruptions in the electric power supply in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Distributors of kerosene are pinning their hopes on renewed demands to turn around their sales after seeing a steady decline for years.
Sales of kerosene declined more than 30 percent in fiscal 2010, compared with fiscal 2002, a peak year.
"It could help the demand for kerosene recover," said Tsutomu Sugimori, senior vice president at JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp., which runs Eneos gas stations.
Showa Shell Sekiyu KK has begun marketing "Shell heat clean," oil for fan heaters, in more gas stations nationwide.
The company said the product, which it developed with the use of natural gas, has less odor compared with petroleum-based heating oils because it has a low amount of sulfur.
It is set to triple the number of gas stations handling Shell heat clean to about 400.
An 18-liter can is priced at 4,200 yen ($55), including tax and delivery charge, about twice the price of regular kerosene.
"I am recommending Shell heat clean to people who have never used kerosene," said Nami Kitamura, who heads the department of promoting new business at Showa Shell Sekiyu.
The company has also made Shell heat clean available online at (Amazon.co.jp).
In mid-October, JX Nippon Oil and Energy began listing gas stations that deliver kerosene on its website. The company is also covering sales promotion expenses to shops marketing the Eco-Feel water heater, which can save on the use of kerosene significantly compared with the previous model.
The industry group is also doing its bid to underscore the advantage of kerosene heaters.
The national federation of operators of gas stations and others in the petroleum business, called Zensekiren, presented 28 kerosene heaters to the East Japan Railway Co. to use in waiting rooms at train stations.
"I would like passengers to know that kerosene heaters can heat faster than those using electricity or gas," said Hirotaka Kawamoto, vice chairman of the association.
Supermarket chain Aeon Co. reported that sales of kerosene heaters surpassed the entire sales of last winter by mid-October this year.
Popular models in the disaster-stricken Tohoku region and elsewhere are ones that enable users to heat a pot of water or prepare meals.
Sales of kerosene heaters at Ito-Yokado Co., another supermarket chain operator, increased about tenfold in September from a year earlier.
But the sudden popularity of kerosene heaters has strained the supply.
"We are having a hard time procuring them since mass-market discounters have already bought in bulk," an official of a leading department store said.
(This article was written by Kazumasa Takenaka and Kaname Kakuta.)
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