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Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012
'SMART GRID/COMMUNITY' SPECIAL
Japan hopes to spread 'smart city' idea through demonstration areas
Promoting the concept of a smart community, the idea of which is to efficiently use energy within a locale, is something Japan has thought of for quite some time as the country has always relied heavily on imports of resources such as oil for its energy needs.
It was not until U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned the idea of smart community in his Green New Deal policy in fall 2009 that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) set up a section to promote the concept in Japan.
METI prefers the term "smart community" to "smart grid," which has also often been used when referring to the smart community concept.
"Smart community sounds like the demand side takes the initiative to create an energy-efficient community, while smart grid sounds like the supply side creates energy-efficient infrastructures," said Yuta Sakaki of the Smart Community Policy Office, Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Department of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, a part of METI. "Our focus is the former."
After thorough discussions with experts in various fields, the ministry concluded it had to create model cases to show to the public and thus decided to subsidize four areas from April 2011, Sakaki said.
Nineteen areas applied for the state subsidy and METI selected four areas that were already advanced in smart community building: Yokohama City, Toyota City, Kitakyushu City and the Keihanna area straddling Kyoto, Osaka and Nara prefectures.
METI gave labels to the four areas. Yokohama City is a large-area urban type, Toyota City is a stand-alone house type, the Keihanna area is a condominium type and Kitakyushu is a special supply area type, or an area where there is no local-dominant power company that supplies electricity. In the case of Kitakyushu, the Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp.'s Yahata steelmaking factory supplies power.
In Yokohama, the Minato Mirai 21 area is the model site, with 4,000 households living there. The waterfront area hosts Landmark Tower, Japan's tallest building. Other facilities in the development include a renovated early 20th century warehouse that serves as a shopping and dining center, a convention center and exhibition hall complex that contains a hotel, department stores and amusement parks.
Yokohama's target is to create 27 megawatts of electricity from solar power generation, install a home energy management system, or HEMS, for 4,000 households and provide 2,000 electric vehicles.
HEMS refers to a system that uses the weather forecast to optimize the operation of power sources. For example, HEMS turns off the so-called Ene Farm, or power generating equipment using gas and kerosene, if the forecast says it will be sunny, and turns it on if cloudy or rainy weather is forecast.
In Minato Mirai 21, structures have been equipped with many ecological features including solar power generation systems, efficient sunlight-gathering mechanisms, heat-insulating surfaces, high-reflectance coatings, rooftop and wall greenery, and other measures that help save electricity. The Minato Mirai 21 area also has several small-size wind turbine power generators as well as the large "Hama Wing" wind power generator.
In Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, 67 houses are the subject of its smart community project. Toyota's focus is to use fuel cells for the houses effectively. Fuel cells are key components for electric vehicles, and the city, the home of Toyota Motor Corp., has many Toyota group companies with fuel cell technology.
Besides fuel cells, the houses have rechargeable batteries and solar panels. The households are supplied with electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid cars, which are cars that can be charged by simply plugging into an electric outlet.
Toyota City's target is to raise the ratio of renewable energy for power generation to 61.2 percent and lets residents use 4,000 electric vehicles.
Currently, 50 percent of the power required by the smart houses comes from their own power generation systems, and Toyota City aims to raise it to 70 percent.
Also in the area of the smart houses, ultra-small electric vehicles will be shared by residents. The city will also enable buses installed with fuel cells to supply power to schools and other facilities in case of natural disasters.
The Keihanna area project is led by Kyoto Prefecture. The project area is home to 900 households. In the area, electricity prices fluctuate daily based on prediction of electricity demand based on the previous day.
The area aims to set up a management system to control energy consumption of the entire community, which includes an electricity and gas supplying infrastructure, public transportation system and many other infrastructures.
Focus on smart community building in condominiums makes Keihanna unique. The 900 households, mainly in condominiums, have tablet devices that give information such as a graph of energy consumption, daily spending on electricity, prediction of the following day's electricity prices and other information that raises the awareness of the households on how they can save energy.
Sakaki said Keihanna is working on adding more features to the tablet devices because their costs generally exceed the savings on electricity bills.
Two examples of the possible additional features are applications that can give advice on skincare by assessing temperature and humidity, and a system to provide information remotely to security companies and relatives living far away to allow them to know when an elderly person living alone does not use electricity at all for a certain number of days. The tablet devices can also have services such as digital data storage and online shopping.
The Keihanna area also provides electric vehicles and installs devices to charge EVs and manage an EV-controlling system. There were 60 EVs in the area as of April.
To selected households, Kansai Electric Power Co., or Kepco, the dominant local utility, gives consultations to see if such advice saves on energy consumption.
In Kitakyushu City, 50 offices and factories as well as 230 households are the subject of its smart community project.
The city set up a system to make electricity prices change every two hours based on the predicted supply-demand situation. The price change can be as big as tenfold.
The area is not provided electricity by Kyushu Electric Power Co., but Nippon Steal and Sumitomo Metal's Yahata steel-making factory.
In two condominiums, storage batteries have been installed and electricity usage is controlled by HEMS. Through these actions, the condominiums have reduced electricity purchases during the day down to almost zero yen.
In some selected houses, hydrogen emitted by the factories is used in fuel cells supplying electricity and heat. Some 40 percent of electricity and 80 percent of hot water used in the houses is from the hydrogen.
The Higashida Clinic in the project area is expected to rely for about 30 percent of its heat usage on solar power in winter, which lets it save electricity costs by about 40 percent.
The project area in Kitakyushu City has already achieved a 30 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the level of ordinary communities in the city, and through this project the area aims to reduce additional the number by another 20 percent.
Apart from the four areas, METI has earmarked ¥2.78 billion in the current fiscal year to support demonstrations of next-generation energy technology in the following eight areas: Tottori City; Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture; Minamata City, Kumamoto Prefecture; Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture; Hitachi City, Ibaraki Prefecture; Mie University in Mie Prefecture; Osaka City; and Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture.
The ministry gave the four areas ¥14.92 billion in fiscal 2011 and earmarked a budget of ¥10.6 billion for the current fiscal year.