New Focus on Microgrids in Post-Fukushima Japan

The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March, 2011 left much of the eastern portion of the island without power for weeks and affected the power supply as far away as Tokyo. In the wake of that disaster, some companies and communities have started building microgrids to ensure power continuity after natural disasters.

Toyota is one example. Its automotive manufacturing facility in Miyagi Prefecture previously relied on its local power utility provider for all its electricity. Consequently, the plant was inoperable for two weeks after the earthquake.

“’The earthquake was a big turning point,’ said a project manager for Toyota. ‘We had this big blackout and realized we needed a new system to increase our energy security.’”

Since then, Toyota has created its own smart grid system that manages and supplies supplemental power to seven factories (and will supply emergency power to a local disaster response center in the event of a power outage). The grid is comprised of a natural gas cogeneration plant, solar panels, and even an array of Prius batteries for storage.

Residential home designs have shifted, too. Honda, Toshiba, and Sekisui House (the biggest home builder in Japan) are partnering together to develop smart-home systems that consist of rooftop solar panels, a natural gas cogeneration unit, battery storage, water heater, and an electric car. Outside Tokyo, a “smart city” development features apartments and condos with not only solar panels and wind turbines, but unique features such as communal bathing areas heated by natural hot springs and water heated by biogas produced from food waste.