Japan Moves Toward Microgrids and Distributed Power Generation

Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr Creative Commons

To increase resiliency, Japanese cities are quietly moving away from large-scale power toward microgrids, distributed generation, and smart energy systems, Reuters reports. The switch is being led by Higashi-Matsushima, a coastal city of nearly 40,000 in Miyagi Prefecture that was hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Supported by the country’s national resilience program, the city has constructed microgrids and decentralized renewable power generation. Currently Higashi-Matsushima’s independent transmission grid and solar panels can provide 25% of the city’s electricity needs while batteries store enough power to keep the city running for at least three days, according to Reuters.

Since the 2011 disaster, there have been more policies in Japan to encourage local autonomy for power generation, Rikkyo University energy policy professor Andrew Dewit told the news outlet. Last year Dewitt wrote about the Japanese government’s national resilience program in the Asia-Pacific Journal. He pointed out that public and private sector spending on renewable energy, storage, and efficiency totaled over $210 billion in 2013 and is projected to grow dramatically by 2020.

Meanwhile, Japanese companies have been focused on resiliency as well. Sekisui House, a company that constructs detached homes, built a smart microgrid for 85 housing units in Higashi-Matsushima last year, Reuters reports. In addition, the construction, engineering, and real estate development corporation Taisei established an energy strategy division and plans to spend more than $1 billion on smart energy systems-related orders over the next five years.

Takao Kashiwagi, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology who specializes in advanced energy systems helped design one of the country’s first smart towns and now heads a council that promotes new energy. He told Reuters, “We are moving toward a day when we won’t be building large-scale power plants. Instead, we will have distributed power systems, where small power supply systems are in place near the consumption areas.”

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