Japan’s Smart Cities Charting a Resilient Course

Japan Smart City LogoI think it’s pretty obvious to anyone who has visited Japan that the Japanese love technology. And given the recent calamities that have befallen them in the past few years, most notably the 2011 earthquake/tsunami, it’s no surprise that they are looking at ways to use technology to improve the resiliency of their cities.

Four cities are participating in an experimental program called Next-Generation Energy and Social Systems Verification Experiment, also known as Japan Smart Cities, which traces its roots back to 2010. The cities are Yokohama, Toyota City, Keihanna Science City (Kyoto Prefecture), and the City of Kitakyushu. According to their website, they define a Smart City as “a new style of city providing sustainable growth and designed to encourage healthy economic activities that reduce the burden on the environment while improving the QoL (Quality of Life) of their residents.”

This definition seems to cover all three legs of the triple bottom line (people, planet, and profit).

Let’s take a look at some of the initiatives. As you will see, many of these address the issue of power disruption that came about as the result of the Fukushima disaster, but could happen again for any number of reasons.

In Toyota City, there is an effort called a Smart Recharge System that utilizes charging plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) and electric vehicles (EV) to help smooth out peak power demands. The smart recharge stations, which are public facilities capable of charging up to 6 vehicles at a time, incorporate their own storage batteries which can help meet these peak demand conditions without impacting the grid. The batteries can then be recharged between cars or during off peak hours. The system will also communicate with each car to see how much charge is needed and what type of battery is being used. This way the station can ensure that it never asks more from the grid than its contracted limit, regardless of the number of cars being recharged. Peak power demands can stress the system, increase costs and require more use of peaker plants that often create more pollution. Charging the batteries during off-peak hours is also greener since that is generally when a higher mix of renewables (e.g. wind power) is online.

A similar project called V2X is using parked EVs to smooth out power demands in a Mitsubishi plant in Keihanna Science City.

Neither of these ideas is entirely new. I wrote about this vehicle-to-grid or V2G idea almost three years ago. The difference between then and now is that back then it was just a concept, whereas right now it is really being done with lessons being done about the details of implementation.

A slightly different type of project is the Building Energy Management System (BEMS) developed in Kitakyushu.  This BEMS system provides “the ability to instantly control various facilities and equipment in accordance with dynamic pricing.” This allows individual buildings to work in concert with the grid. You can think of it as the whole city’s electrical system as an orchestra that is being directed by the grid (conductor) through the mechanism of dynamic pricing. Like the two systems mentioned earlier, this system also makes use of battery storage. The  building has a large container holding a Li-ion battery next to the parking lot. Not only can a system like this make the city more robust against potential brownouts during periods of high demand and heavy fluctuations, but it can also be used to optimize efficiency and maximize the use of renewables.

The  Next-Generation Energy and Social Systems Demonstration Project in Keihanna, harmonizes the energy consumption of individual households to meet the targets of the entire community. The pilot project consists of 14 houses that have been fitted with solar PV panels each capable of generating 3 to 4 kW and one of several different high efficiency hot water systems including: gas water heating system using solar heat, fuel cell batteries, a heat pump water heater, or a high-efficiency gas water heater. Ten of the homes also have battery electric storage systems. Home energy management system (HEMS) controllers have been installed in each home. Sensors measure electricity consumption in great detail. All of this is connected to the community energy management system (CEMS) which then attempts, using demand response, the solar panels and the storage batteries to allocate the amount of power each house can draw from the grid. Each household is encouraged to adapt their behaviors so as to meet their daily allocations.

These are just a few of the many projects that are being pursued under this initiative. Others include car-sharing, optimizing building heat and power, and various other projects involving EV charging, building energy performance and dynamic electricity pricing.

It should be interesting to see what kinds of results come out of this living laboratory, many of which should really help improve the resiliency and sustainability of these cities.

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

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RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, ofVapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com