Panasonic’s goal to be the world’s number one “green innovation” company is on living display in the Kasai Green Energy Park, a 90 minute drive from the company’s headquarters in Osaka. If clean energy ever scales to a point at which our buildings, homes, factories and cars can run free of fossil fuels, this office park in a rural part of Hyogo Prefecture is where our future has started. Last week a group of journalists and writers had the opportunity to see what could be the future.
For Sanyo, now a subsidiary of Panasonic, the Green Energy Park is where energy storage, solar power and smart grid technologies will provide the next level of not only innovation, but revenue streams as well. Technologies that many clean energy advocates dream about are now the reality at Kasai. A one megawatt photovoltaic power system, a 1.5 megawatt battery storage facility and a the latest electric car charging stations are just the start.
The visit begins as you drive along small farms and rice paddies that are a soothing contrast to the glass, steel and concrete in Osaka and Tokyo. You are greeted by a tree-shaped “Solalib” solar charging station that not only recharges electric vehicles (EVs), but are also linked to a battery storage system in a nearby building in case of a disaster.
Behind the Solalib is the park’s administration building, which is slathered with over 5200 photovoltaic modules that can generate over one megawatt of electricity, enough to power 330 homes. The solar panels are Sanyo’s HIT double façade modules that take in not only direct rays from sun from the front, but can also convert scattered rays from the rear surface, too. The modules also provide shade for the building’s employees on hot sunny days. LED lights, powered by solely solar energy, illuminate the Sanyo logo on top of the building.
Next to the administration building is the future of commuting. A solar parking lot covers as many as 100 electric bicycles during the day while recharging their batteries without using any local commercial energy power, even during rainy days or at night. After bicycling to work in the morning, employees can plunk their bicycle batteries in an assigned locker for a fully powered ride back home.
The most critical component of the Green Energy Park is the 1.5 megawatt lithium ion mega battery system. No matter how far wind, solar and other clean energy technologies can scale, effective battery storage is the key to a smarter grid. Currently 310,000 batteries entombed in 1000 battery systems keeps the entire facility humming. Cheaper late-night power from the local grid charges the batteries so that the entire park can operate during the day.
For Japan, the Kasai Green Energy park is a lynchpin for Japan’s path towards a low-carbon society. The increasing price of fossil fuels, the aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster and a stagnant economy are fueling innovation in this rural corner of Japan. With more countries reconsidering their nuclear energy programs, the innovation that is thriving here could be a step towards reinvigorating Japan’s economy. The future that many of us would like to see is not yet here, but for two hours, we were fortunate enough to visit it for a couple hours last week.