Smart grids around the world – Japan

energy efficiency, electricity consumption, smart grids, renewable energy, Japan

Existing energy grids must be modernized in order to adapt to a changing energy world as well as to the gradual emergence of decentralized production sources. More and more smart grids are being built in Europe and worldwide and seem to be an adequate, effective solution to this challenge. Japan is one of the most advanced nations when it comes to smart grids.

Japan’s energy situation

Japan is a pioneer in the field of smart grids. Early on, it had to explore local solutions to its energy situation. The island nation is very dependent on hydrocarbon imports, which accounted for more than 60% of its energy mix in 2010. Besides, its energy needs have skyrocketed following the Fukushima disaster and the ensuing shutdown of the country’s 54 nuclear reactors. On the one hand, smart grids help connect small energy production units, thus enabling the use of renewable sources and on the other hand they help match supply and demand, moving the country towards energy independence. Better yet, smart grids improve the delicate organization of the electric network on this archipelago country by decentralizing energy generation to a certain extent.

From smart grids to smart communities

Smart grids do optimize energy generation and network management thanks to various technologies: automation, fine-tuning of energy flows and real-time consumption measurement. However, Japan decided to take a step further and go beyond these technical results by putting a strong emphasis on final consumer behaviour.

Indeed smart grids are also about empowering consumers by giving them the technology to manage their energy consumption in an autonomous way. Smart metres not only help gather information instrumental in improving the network as a whole, but also inform users in real time on their consumption levels. Consumers can therefore adjust their habits and contribute to improving energy efficiency in their house, neighbourhood and city.

In order to fully reap the benefits of smart grids, Japan’s government has thus decided to raise public awareness of energy issues (scarcity of resources, environmental impact…) with a view to fostering a durable shift in behaviour. In Japan the preferred expression is “smart communities” rather than smart grids: they are groups of citizens using measurement technologies available in smart grids in order to save energy, improve collective well-being and preserve the environment while keeping the economy moving.

Smart grid projects in Japan

In April 2010, Japan’s METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) along with a public agency known as NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization) launched four full-scale experimental smart grid projects in four different cities, under the name “Japan smart city”. The goal is to experiment various technologies and solutions, such as real-time management of energy flows, interoperability of consumptions between households, businesses and city infrastructure, energy storage, photovoltaic power generation, connected electric vehicles, etc. The four flagship projects are:

  • Yokohama Smart City Project : more than 4,000 buildings (mainly housing) over an area of 435.17 km² ;
  • Toyota City Low-carbon Society Verification Project : almost 130 buildings and 4,000 new-generation vehicles, with a 61.2% renewable energy production target;
  • Kita-Kyushu Smart Community Project : 225 housing units and 50 office buildings equipped with smart metres and energy storage facilities of approximately 800kW:
  • Keihanna Eco City the Next-generation Energy and Social Systems: the thriving Kansai Science City research hub (which spans the Kyoto, Osaka and Nara prefectures) aims at reducing energy use in order to cut CO2 emissions while maintaining the same standard of comfort for residents.

Smart communities through international partnerships

Given the scale and cost of smart community projects, Japan set up partnerships at the national and international levels. Various organizations and industrial groups thus pool their financial and technical resources to conduct these four experiments. Several smart community projects involving multinational companies are being planned worldwide, for instance in Spain, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Hawaii, New Mexico…

One of the largest projects is the Lyon Smart Community: in December 2011 a partnership was struck between the Greater Lyon Authority and NEDO, along with various industrial groups and innovative start-up companies.

These international projects showcase Japan’s know-how in this dynamic sector, demonstrating the country’s desire to export its energy transition model and to become a worldwide smart grid pioneer.

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