Two years ago, Japan’s second-largest city launched a small-scale environmental experiment, encouraging residents to install solar panels on their roofs and buy pricey equipment to track how much energy they use.Yokohama officials’ goal was simple: to save power and cut the city’s carbon emissions.
But since the nuclear disaster that transformed the way Japan thinks about both energy and the companies that supply it, Yokohama’s “smart city project” has taken on potentially larger significance. What began as a modest environmental plan now stands as a controversial blueprint for a system in which the country’s monopolistic utilities would lose their absolute control of the grid.
In Yokohama, the households with both solar panels and meters act as micro-size power companies, generating electricity, using what they want and in some cases selling the surplus back to the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Tepco. That model contrasts sharply with the one that has served Japan for decades, as 10 privately owned utility companies established regional fiefdoms, largely reliant on coastal nuclear plants and allowing little room for renewable-energy projects that would cut into profits.
Read the rest of the story: Renewable energy sees its chance in Japan’s electricity market.