IEA experts advise Japan on smart communities

12 March 2013

One of the site visits to a renewable energy project that is part of the reconstruction efforts following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Photo by Kotono Hara, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, all rights reserved.

Two members of the IEA Sustainable Energy and Policy Technology Directorate recently visited Japan's Tohoku region to provide advice on rebuilding as energy self-sufficient “smart communities” many of the municipalities that were hit hardest by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Energy Technology Policy Division head Jean-François Gagné and Energy Demand Technology analyst John Dulac toured the planned reconstruction sites, where co-generation and solar farms will provide not just a more sustainable energy system but will also serve as an example to the rest of the country and the world. For instance, the town of Minami-Soma is developing a park that combines a solar power plant with a renewable energy “green academy” interactive learning centre for children based on a similar project in Tokyo that aims to build support among the next generation. Elsewhere, industrial waste energy will be reused as heat for a hospital.

Japan is seeking to reconstruct the areas devastated by the tsunami not only with renewable energy systems but also with self-sufficient and back-up power provision. By incorporating high standards for energy efficiency as well, the plan is to bolster both energy security and regional emergency preparedness.

The IEA analysts discussed best practices in designing and developing smart communities that use biofuels, industrial heat waste and other sustainable or renewable means to power grids sustainably, efficiently and effectively.

In particular, the analysts recommended a systems perspective that provides clean and reliable supply while incorporating energy efficiency. They emphasised demand-management technology and educating consumers to use the information provided by smart grids to make their use of energy more efficient. They also discussed how land use and other organic elements of a community can affect energy efficiency, and they advised on installing smart grids in the new cities. Finally, they stressed the need to build in back-up power capacity to prevent supply disruption.

The tour was part of a visit that included attendance at the International Workshop at Minami-Soma and a symposium on Japan's New Disaster-Resilient Smart City Initiative.

"The communities wanted our impressions and they appreciated our feedback," Dulac said. "It was a two-fold opportunity: international comment that helps local communities and then the communities become an example to the world." He was amazed at the reconstruction in the area. "It's impressive to see the progress they’ve made on cleaning up the disaster-affected areas. Even more impressive is their ambition to build stronger, more resilient, sustainable communities for the future."