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20 September 2017

Japanese cities move towards distributed energy systems to power-proof from natural disasters

According to a research conducted by Reuters in the city of Higashi Matsushima, a ‘silent’ revolution has been happening in Japan in the wake of the 2011 fatal earthquake and tsunami, with more and more municipalities setting up distributed energy systems to reduce reliance on the main grid, and secure electricity supply during natural disasters.

The city of Higashi Matsushima is a northern Japanese city, which was highly affected by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, - the city suffered the loss of 1,100 and nearly 75 percent of the city’s homes were gone.

After the disaster, the Japanese Government set up the “National Resilience Program”, which would fund the reconstruction of the cities affected by the disaster and would focus on building back-up capabilities in the event of another natural disaster, with an initial amount of $33.32 billion.

Higashi Matsushima took advantage of the available funding to build micro-grids and de-centralised renewable energy generation facilities to reduce its dependency on the national grid by producing approximately 25 percent of its electricity needs.

Yusuke Atsumi, a Manager at HOPE, - the utility that Higashi Matsushima created to manage the local generation facilities and the grid, said: “At the time of the Great East Japan earthquake, we couldn’t secure power and had to go through incredible hardships”.

The disaster shed light to the fact that under a large-scale power system a blackout in one area leads to power outages all over the country, and informally, the National Resilience Program sparked the creation of distributed energy systems to reduce municipalities’ dependence on large power plants.

The distributed energy systems usually use small-scale power generation fuelled by natural gas and/or solar and wind arrays and they use the internet to connect appliances and meters to better direct electric power depending on the needs.

Higashi Matsushima’s system is comprised of an independent transmission grid, solar generating panels and batteries that can secure enough electricity to power the city for three days.

Andrew Dewit, a Professor of Energy Policy at Rikkyo University in Tokyo commented: “Since Fukushima, there has been a gradual elaboration of policies to realize that kind of local autonomy, local consumption paradigm”.

The whole ‘autonomous’ electricity grids idea was conceived and designed by Takao Kashiwagi, a Professor at the International Research Centre for Advanced Energy Systems for Sustainability at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Takao Kashiwagi said: “We are moving towards a day when we won’t be building large-scale power plants. Instead, we will have distributed power systems, where small power supply systems are in place near the consumption areas”.

Reuters indicate that it constitutes a ‘quite energy revolution’, and that companies are shifting their focus in response to this demand.

Sekisui House constructed Higashi Matsushima’s smart micro-grid for 85 housing units in 2016.

Taisei Corp, one of Japan’s biggest construction companies, established an energy strategy division during 2017 to take advantage of the hype of smart energy systems, and is expecting to double energy-related orders over the next five years focusing on renewables, energy efficient buildings and off-grid communities.

Japan’s cabinet office announced last month that the country’s ministries were seeking to raise the budget for the Program by an extra 24 percent for the fiscal year starting in April 2018. 

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