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Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012
'SMART GRID/COMMUNITY' SPECIAL
A view into life in a smart city, as seen at Kashiwanoha Campus City
By CHIHO IUCHI
With the increasing attention to the "smart city" concept, which takes advantages of information technology-controlled power grids and renewable energy, businesses and governments are launching various field operation test projects at home and abroad. While the technological aspects, business models and export potential have been much talked about, the idea of a smart city is still unrealistic for most people. What is it truly like to be a resident living in such a community that employs cutting-edge systems and technologies?
One of the nation's largest smart-city complexes, Kashiwanoha Campus City in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, a project built by real estate company Mitsui Fudosan in cooperation with the University of Tokyo and Chiba University, will serve as a pioneering example.
"We did not know about the smart city-related projects when we decided to live in this community," said Kyohei Ueda, 31, who has resided in an apartment in Kashiwanoha for a year and half. "We just decided based on commuting distance and transportation convenience."
"And the space. It's roomy here," added his wife, Chiyuri, 31, who gave birth to their first child three months ago.
Opened in 2007, Kashiwanoha Campus City is already home to around 4,000 residents in some 1,300 households, unlike other projects in Japan that are still in the trial stage.
Prior to moving in, the Uedas received an explanation about the home energy management system, or HEMS, which graphically represents carbon dioxide emissions of each household.
"But I just thought to myself, 'Uh-huh, is that so?' at that time," Kyohei Ueda said.
However, once they started living with HEMS, it turned out to be very useful.
"The system tells us how much electricity we use from hour to hour, whereas we used to learn only the total amount upon receiving the monthly electricity bills," Ueda said.
Ueda showed the wall monitor that is integrated with the intercom. The monitor keeps track of carbon dioxide emissions based on the amount of electricity, gas and hot water consumed.
"It's all easy to use. Just touch the panel and it displays our energy consumption as a carbon dioxide emission equivalent," Ueda said. "It also has a ranking function that tells our achievement in reducing energy consumption among the 400 participating residents. We rank in the middle," Ueda said with a laugh.
The system is connected to the Internet as well and the residents are given more detailed information on their computers.
According to Ueda, the electricity bill usually cost over ¥10,000 when they lived in Tokyo. This went down to around ¥7,000 after moving to Kashiwanoha. In the aftermath of the March 2011 disasters, power shortages occurred and rolling blackouts were introduced in some areas.
"So we were particularly careful about our way of using electricity last summer," Ueda said.
"This summer, we used the air conditioner more than last year, because we now have a baby," Chiyuri Ueda said. "But we keep our electricity expense within ¥9,000 per month.
"For example, if we use the dryer for laundry, the electricity cost jumps. So I avoid using it when the weather forecast says it's going to be sunny the next day. I have become more conscious of the weather."
Besides the energy management system within each household, there are various projects, such as a bicycle-sharing system, electric vehicle-sharing system, flower planting and urban agricultural programs with the University of Tokyo, as well as lectures on sustainable designs at Chiba University, organized and supported by the public and private sector.
"I feel that a new town is now developing with us," Kyohei Ueda said.