Category 18 April 2019

Top Runner Program – energy efficiency improvements by making the best available on the market, the new normal

Japan's Top Runner program is setting regulatory requirements as an efficiency performance standard for a wide variety of products sold in Japan. The officials test all of the products currently available in a category, determine the most efficient model, and establish that model's level of efficiency as the new baseline.

The challenge

Japan’s energy consumption has been expanding rapidly, along with the country’s economic development. On the other hand, Japan has almost no domestic energy resources and the country relies primarily on overseas energy sources. Acknowledging this trend, Japan enacted the “Law concerning the Rational Use of Energy” (Energy Conservation Law) in 1979. This provided a legal basis for energy conservation activities, as well as strengthening and promoting assistance policies.

The measure

Japan revised the Energy Conservation Law in April 1999 with the goal of strengthening the legal underpinnings of various energy conservation measures. As a staple energy conservation measure for the residential, commercial, and transportation sector, the Top Runner Program was introduced to advance the energy efficiency in industry of machinery and equipment, and supporting private demand for more energy efficient products. At first, 11 product items (including automobiles and air conditioners) were covered by this program, with additional products being added over the years, resulting in a total of 23 product items currently being covered by the program.

Top Runner Program uses, as a base value, the value of the product with the best resource efficiency on the market at the time the standard establishment process is carried out. The program sets standard values by considering potential technological improvements added as efficiency improvements. This drives other companies to try to make even more efficient models to compete, which in turn means the next time officials set standards, the best available products will be even more efficient. This policy specifically targets the use phase of energy materials using equipment through market transformation.

Lessons learnt 

Thanks to the progress the above mentioned law stimulated, Japan has achieved an industrial system that features the world’s most advanced rates of energy efficiency. The policy has been successful as a result of its continuous development, and also due to the fact that it is specific to the Japanese market, i.e. the Japanese market enables the successful functioning of this Program as it has a  structure which is dominated by a limited number of domestic producers.

Key success factors of the policy are:

Transforming markets and raising consumer awarenessRegulatory burden is shared as industry is part of the processIncentivises encourage continued improvement beyond the agreed targets and also encourage competitionCreates a culture of R&D and rapid market deploymentFlexible, adaptable and responsive to technology or market changesBoosts responsible purchasing


Further deployment

The advantages of the Top Runner Program have been steadily recognised. Since greater results are expected as more products increasingly satisfy the Top Runner standard value, it is necessary to continue adding new target products as well as reviewing standard values for the product categories whose target fiscal year is fulfilled. This policy can also be used as a starting point for other policies such as: a green automobile tax scheme, green procurement law, labelling requirements at local level and energy efficiency awards. The maturity level is estimated to be 9 on the GML scale, as this policy is already partially adapted to other regions and areas (click here).



Website of the administrating agencyMinistry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), The Top Runner Program, Developing the World's best Energy-Efficient Appliances, Revised Edition/Mar.2010. [referenced 22.1.2014] availableFuture Policy, proven solutions for current and future generations  [referenced 22.1.2014] available: