Disaster Recovery and the Smart Community

Lessons learnt from the Tsunami have shaped Japanese thinking on the role of the Smart Grid in energy resilience and maintaining power supply.
Published: Tue 21 Jan 2014

The Tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 left many without power and a country looking for new solutions. One of the results of this disaster is the rise of communities wanting energy independence.

According to Tadashi Matsuzaki , Chief Technical Officer of Smart Community Project, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Japan, the country no longer wants to rely on the centralized power grid. In response to this, his company, amongst others, are assisting communities to design their own energy system.

Some of the key tenants of an energy system for a smart community must include:

Increased energy independence and islanding capabilities from the main grid

  1. Local power- Renewable energy harmonized with big power systems.

  2. Reduced energy consumption

  3. Collaboration between supply and consumer sides

  4. An array of energy storage solutions to balance and sustain the system

To make this happen, there are a number of challenges facing the creation of these ‘smart communities’ in Japan and other areas of the globe.

Technical challenges

These include demand-supply balancing, frequency adjustment of supply, optimization of voltage in distribution, independent power supply by a distribution power system, energy management and peak reduction by demand response

Institutional challenges

Energy regulations can be obstacles. The energy business act protects the power company but deregulation is needed to develop local power.

Operational challenges

Local power must be able to compete successfully with big power producer-prices. It is therefore important that the following obstacles are overcome:

  • Operational cost on power generations

  • Maintenance of local distribution network

  • Cost of wheeling and back-up generators

  • Incentive cost for demand response

  • Time of use tariff

  • Collection of power charges

Progress and capability

Mitsubishi, like other companies, have been testing the viability of the concept and have found that to be a self -sustained operation, the mix is multidimensional and complicated.

Mega solar systems, electric vehicles and a charge station, artificial load (buildings and houses), operation centre , supply and demand control system, next generation distribution control system, advanced metering infrastructure, an energy management system, communications and distribution network, power system simulator, and rechargeable batteries all need to be rolled into one intelligent system.

Mr Matsuzaki expands: “We simulate and evaluate the optimal power system in a community with PV, small gas generators, in a community and power provided by utility. A certain amount of energy will be provided by the local distributed power supply during an emergency. In this situation, supply-demand balance will need to be adjusted by aggregating local power supplies.” He adds that storage solutions must be in place for renewable energy generation to work in a smart community.

Mitsubishi and other companies are making large bets on this type of smart community and distributed generation architecture. This is also driven by similar challenges of rural electrification in the new emerging economies such as Africa and India.