Feature Report: Japan and Energy

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Japan: The Vibrant Development of Smart Communities

The great importance placed on "community" by Japanese society, as demonstrated in various levels of family life, business and national government, has a powerful impact on how energy is managed. This distinctiveness has enabled the Japanese to extensively integrate new, innovative technologies into their daily lives. Smart homes and districts, as well as "smart communities" on a more integrated level, are one of Japan's hallmarks.

The Japanese tradition of solidarity and standardization helps the country manage energy efficiently. This photo shows identical houses in a new suburb. ©SHUTTERSTOCK

A New Social System

Japanese society is based on traditions and characteristics that are significantly different from those of European and North American countries. In managing energy and, more broadly, the environment, the Japanese have adopted an original approach focused on highly decentralized innovations for homes, districts and cities.

In Japan, district associations (chōnaikai) are a secular institution. Both family and business relations are organized based on a strict hierarchy. Collective needs are often prioritized over individual needs and Japanese society emphasizes the concept of collective solidarity.

Respect for elders is made all the more evident by the fact that the population has aged significantly and is declining overall in absolute terms. Currently, one-fourth of Japanese are aged over 65 and, according to forecasts by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECDFounded in 1960, the OECD promotes policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world...), this age group will make up one-third of the population in 2035. The aging population is accentuated by very low immigration rates, even though these have risen in recent years. This situation has a substantial number of economic impacts, whether on health expenditure, the organization of transportation or urban planning.

To help face these challenges, Japan has coined the term "smart community"1. Experts from Japan’s influential Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) define a smart community as "a community of a certain scale in which various consumers participate and which has created a new social system". This "social system" is based in particular on all technologies created through the fusion of energy and digital technology and designed to reduce consumption and secure energy supply in a country threatened by natural disasters. The system integrates home automationRefers to all the automation and programming processes used in homes... to help with everyday tasks, including caring for the elderly. The 2020 Summer Olympics is likely to showcase these technologies2.

5.3 million: The number of stationary fuel cells that may be supplying single-family homes with heat and power by 2035, according to the Japanese government's plan.

New Technologies in Touch with Citizen Needs

Home automation technologies used in Japan include:

Lack of space poses a major challenge in Japan and has slowed the development of large­scale wind and solar farms.

District-Sized Laboratories

The development of smart houses is part of the growth of eco-districts and cities, which are based on initiatives such as electric public transportation networks, big data usage and connections to nearby wind and solar farms. In the suburbs of Tokyo, the Kashiwanoha district offers a glimpse of the city of tomorrow through its integration of new technologies and its solutions to social challenges, including engagement initiatives for the elderly, local healthcare services, shared eco-mobility solutions and neighborhood committees offering community activities3.