Smart Grid is a concept that has gained some popularity, as many people are concerned about their electricity supply. Rather than just relying on a huge utility so provide your home or office with power, you could actually be a part of the supply system, if you have solar panels on your roof, for example.
Not so easy in Japan. There has been such a monopoly on electricity supply, that almost no discussion on Smart Grid has taken place, until of course now, when TEPCO is in dire straits and can no longer rely on nuclear power reactors to keep Tokyo's bright lights shining, and cannot even assure the public that their plan will work to cool down the destroyed Fukushima #1 reactors.
Smart Grid for Japan? Well, some people have tried to envision such a system, for example in Yokohama, a rather progressive city. Yet, it seems to be moving very slowly, with only 900 units of photovoltic systems installed by 2009, although they plan to install some 2000 ten years later, according to Nikkan.
Yokohama Smart City Project is trying to build a low-carbon society in a big city. Last October, AP/SF Gate noted:
The city of Yokohama, just southwest of Tokyo, is the site of a social and infrastructure experiment to create a smart city for the rest of the world to emulate. Begun this year, the Yokohama Smart City Project is a five-year pilot program with a consortium of seven Japanese companies - Nissan Motor Co., Panasonic Corp., Toshiba Corp., Tokyo Electric Power Co., Tokyo Gas Co., Accenture's Japan unit and Meidensha Corp.AP/SFGate: Japan creating 'smart city' of the future
"We want to build a social model to take overseas," said Masato Nobutoki, the executive director of Yokohama's Climate Change Policy Headquarters, during a keynote event at CEATAC. "Yokohama is a place where foreign cultures entered Japan 150 years ago and then spread to the rest of the country."
Now, he said, it's where the best of Japan is converging, preparing for expansion to the wider world.
(Note that TEPCO was just included as an "observer" in the Yokohama project, clearly not something the nuclear power promoters were very enthusiastic about a year ago.)
At the Eco Products Trade Fair at Tokyo Big Site in 2010, Panasonic introduced one product that may be useful if you want to store your own electricity, and go off-grid completely. Their small sized 5 KWh lithium battery is to be placed outside of your home, and may run home appliances for about half a day. But how clever is this device really? It just consists of 140 usual small batteries, put together as one unit. Panasonic is also trying to promote a “Smart Energy Gateway” (SEG) for their Home Energy Management System (HEMS). Excuse me if I'm sceptical. We all need one of these, so why haven't they been developed already...? And it does seem awfully complicated (Note to whoever is in charge, the videos on the Panasonic website don't work).
(Photo: IT Media)
One of the companies involved in the Yokohama project is Solar Frontier, and I was impressed by their efforts to help the Tohoku region. They have supplied solar panels to the Futsukaichi Community Center in Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture. The community center is currently sheltering 20 local residents. OK, a small contribution, but that is how we will have to think from now on: Small Efforts Can Make A Huge Difference For Tohoku.