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Post-Fukushima, Japanese Companies Build Microgrids

Three microgrids show how diverse energy sources can supply power during disasters

4 min read
Post-Fukushima, Japanese Companies Build Microgrids
Multiple Input, Multiple Output: The Kashiwanoha smart-city project uses energy from electric-vehicle batteries, biogas, storage batteries, solar panels, and the grid.
Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

Before the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami four years ago this month, Toyota’s automotive plant in Miyagi Prefecture, north of Fukushima, had relied entirely on the Tohoku Electric Power Co. for energy. But when the disaster shut down power to its plant for two weeks, managers realized that the company needed a more secure source. The factory couldn’t be independent of the electric grid, but it could manage that energy better—and supplement it.

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

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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