|Advertising|Jobs 転職|Shukan ST|JT Weekly|Book Club|JT Women|Study in Japan|Times Coupon|Subscribe 新聞購読申込|
Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012
'SMART GRID/COMMUNITY' SPECIAL
Japan aims to spread idea of efficient living to the world
The term "smart grid" began being talked about frequently after U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned it in his so-called Green New Deal policy in 2009.
A definition of smart grid would be a grid to share energy-saving measures. But the term is generally used to describe a community of houses, buildings and other social infrastructures to reduce the energy consumption of the entire community.
Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, or NEDO, develops smart grid technology, among other technologies related to new energy. NEDO cooperates with local governments and companies around the world in creating smart communities.
"In the past three or four years, NEDO has been expanding overseas projects," said Satoshi Morozumi, director of the Smart Community Department of NEDO's Energy and Environment Center.
In overseas projects, NEDO, which is not a manufacturer but a research and development organization operating mainly through the budget of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, receives orders on comprehensive smart community projects and places orders to Toshiba Corp., Kyocera Corp., Sharp Corp. and other domestic and foreign companies.
In explaining the merit for local governments to place orders with NEDO instead of directly with companies, Morozumi said the NEDO's role is convenient for both sides — smart grid infrastructure makers and foreign municipalities — because NEDO is a governmental organization and having negotiations between governments concluded first would make the rest of the process smooth for both sides. Not to mention that NEDO can also offer knowhow and technology it has developed independently.
NEDO calls its overseas projects "verification," meaning it develops technology in Japan and verifies if the technology is commercially viable overseas.
"Japanese companies such as Toshiba do smart community business basically only in Japan. NEDO conducts demonstration projects and would like to support Japanese companies to help expand their customer bases," Morozumi said.
"Because they don't do business overseas very much, engineers in those companies do not know much about energy-related regulations overseas," he said, explaining how NEDO can help domestic companies.
Among overseas projects, two in the southwestern U.S. state of New Mexico, in Los Alamos County and Albuquerque, have been launched while others are still in the preparation or negotiation stage.
The Los Alamos smart grid project began operations in August.
In Los Alamos, with a population of 20,000, NEDO offers help to optimize the amount of stored electricity in battery charged from existing electricity sources by controlling battery systems and monitoring electricity demand of households and businesses.
For example, NEDO helped set up a computer system to reduce the charging of batteries during peak electricity demand, such as in the early afternoon in summer when people turn on air conditioners or in the evening when people are home and turn on appliances.
Instead, at the time electricity demand is low, such as overnight, the computer system allows battery-recharging equipment to increase the charging capability.
Also, households have so-called smart meters installed in their houses so that they know how much electricity they consume and how much they owe. NEDO helped set a pricing system in which electricity prices go up when demand is high.
Another feature noteworthy in the Los Alamos project is that NEDO introduced technology currently not used in Japan.
Cadmium telluride is the material used for solar panels in Los Alamos, but the substance is not generally used in Japan due to its toxicity. Cadmium used to be contained in paint and coating materials for auto parts and dry cell batteries, and is the cause of itai-itai disease, which victimized people in Toyama Prefecture from the 1910s to the 1970s. The painful, degenerative bone disease, occurred in those who ate vegetables or drank water contaminated by cadmium.
"Cadmium telluride is actually the most cost-effective material for making solar panels," Morozumi said. "It is allowed for use in (New Mexico), so we decided to use it. If the (Los Alamos) project proves successful, restrictions may be eased in Japan."
Los Alamos county also uses high-speed PLC (power line communication) transfer interception equipment, which is not used in Japan because its effect has not been officially recognized in Japan. The equipment, proposed by NEDO, switches the electricity source from electric power cables to the emergency battery system in case of a blackout.
Without the equipment, Los Alamos' emergency battery system would supply electricity to a whole community via power cables and consequently have to shut down due to excessive demand, Morozumi said.
In Japan and some other places, similar equipment is not necessarily required, depending on the setting and the kind of equipment pre-installed by utilities.
The high speed PLC transfer interception equipment also collects data from the smart meters of each household. Such data will be useful in developing a way to optimize management of electricity use and supply.
The project in Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico with a population of 480,000, kicked off in May.
In Albuquerque's project, NEDO helped build an urban smart city with ecological buildings. The project includes the installation of a solar power generator, a cogeneration system, fuel cells and a building and energy management system in the Mesa Del Sol Aperture Center, the model building for the project.
NEDO will verify whether the building is self-operable in case of blackouts and able to optimize electricity use in case of unstable power supply from the solar power system.
NEDO is also collaborating with Sandia National Laboratory, Albuquerque, and Los Alamos National Laboratory to establish standard methods on information security in smart communities and a way to test and operate a power conditioner, or equipment to convert electricity from solar panels and batteries into a usable form of electricity, by itself, according to NEDO.
NEDO has some other overseas projects in pipeline.
On Maui island, Hawaii, NEDO is planning to help maximize the ratio of renewable energy. The project will be in practice in about a year, Morozumi said. Maui is Hawaii's second largest island and has a population of about 100,000.
The project includes the installation of a computer system, dubbed the electric vehicle management system, that optimizes a way to charge electric vehicles by using oversupplied electricity at a time of low demand.
Hawaii's electricity prices are the highest in the U.S. because of high reliance on thermal power, Morozumi said. Wind power is the largest renewable energy power there, but it is unstable, he added. When wind speed is as high as 25 meters per second, power plants stop windmills to prevent them from being broken, he said.
In Lyon, France, NEDO's project will begin in a year or a year and a half, Morozumi said. Lyon is in southeastern France and the area has a population of more than 1 million.
In line with the European Union's effort to raise the ratio of renewable energy to 20 percent, France requires buildings erected in 2020 or later to generate more electricity than they consume, an initiative called positive energy building (PEB).
NEDO will help construct the so-called P-plot building, which is a PEB. The building will have many energy-saving features, such as solar panels and a system to visualize how much, when and where electricity is consumed. Also, NEDO will help introduce a system to share electric vehicles in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate traffic congestion.
In Malaga, Spain, NEDO will help install a system to manage the use of electric vehicles and infrastructures for charging station of EVs. The Malaga project will start by March.
In Spain, 40 percent of energy consumption comes from transportation, and the source of the energy is mostly thermal. In order to meet the EU's ecological goal of raising ratio of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2020, Spain aims to increase the number of EVs to 250,000 by 2014.
In this special supplement, The Japan Times has asked experts in the field to talk about the smart grid concept in more detail and how it applies to communities in Japan and around the world. Such "smart communities" may be a way forward for the future of energy use and sustainability.