Smart City Progress Report: Japan

Tue, 2013-07-16 06:14 -- Eric Woods

Although Japan was a laggard in making the move to the smart grid, don't think the same will be true for smart cities. As you will see in this piece from Navigant Research, penned exclusively for the Smart Cities Council, Japan has been marching down the path since the late '90s.

What's more Japan has several strong motivators. One is resilience, an issue for any country, especially one at such risk for earthquakes and tsunamis. Another is strong government support. As you will read below, Japan wants not just to fix its own cities, but also be a world leader in smart city exports.

So if you want to stay current with the state of the art in smart cities, be sure you are watching Japan closely. It is just now completing some key pilots. I expect Japanese companies to begin trumpeting their smart city wares globally and aggressively, beginning in 2014. -- Jesse Berst, Smart Cities Council Chairman

By Eric Woods
Navigant Research

Eric WoodsThe Japanese government and the country’s industrial and technology companies have been pioneers in developing an integrated approach to energy and sustainability issues in smart cities.  Japan launched its first eco-town projects in 1997, followed in 2008 by the Eco Model City program.  Currently four major smart city demonstration projects are in progress, with a specific focus on the integration of smart grid and smart energy innovations.  New smart community projects are also being developed as part of the reconstruction program that followed the Fukushima earthquake.  Other countries can learn from Japan’s emphasis on collaboration between the private sector, central government, and local governments in the development of smart cities.

Yokohama and Toyota City are good examples of the goals being set by Japanese cities for sustainability and for innovation in energy, building and transport technologies.

  • Yokohama, the city of 3.7 million people pictured here, has established itself as a global leader for the drive towards smart cities.  The city has set a target of delivering a 30% reduction in carbon emissions per person by 2025, compared to 2004, and 60% by 2050.  The city’s program for meeting these goals includes increased use of renewable energy, building improvements, transportation innovations, and demand management.  The Yokohama Smart City Project (YSCP) is focused on the deployment of a range of energy management systems in residential and commercial buildings, as well as a program for EV integration. Partners in the project include Nissan, Panasonic, Toshiba, Tokyo Electric Power, Tokyo Gas, Accenture's Japan unit.
  • Toyota, population 420,000, has a target to reduce emissions by 30% to 50% by 2030 and 50% to 70% by 2050.  As the home of the Toyota Motor Company, the city is unsurprisingly focusing on transportation and mobility issues for its smart city initiative.  The city is developing a number of demonstration projects around sustainable transport, including a plug-in hybrid car-sharing system and the development of solar power-based charging infrastructure.  The city is also piloting home energy management systems and demand response programs.  

Reconstruction and smart communities

Japan’s interest in smart cities was given additional momentum following the earthquake and tsunami that struck the country in 2011.  The reconstruction program for the Tohoku region and its main city, Fukushima, emphasizes the creation of sustainable and resilient communities.  In December 2012, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) identified seven municipalities in Tohoku where it will support smart community projects.  The project led by Fujitsu, the city of Aizuwakamatsu, and Tohoku Electric Power, is a good example of these initiatives.  The project includes a new energy control center to enable the integration of renewable energy, the adoption of electric vehicles and encouragement for local renewable energy resources.  For Aizuwakamatsu, like other reconstruction projects, the creation of a sustainable and resilient community is also part of its economic regeneration strategy.   

Smart cities and economic development

The recognition that smart city initiatives can help drive the Japanese economy is an important aspect of the country’s promotion of sustainable urban environments.  Japan’s global manufacturing and engineering companies are playing a central role in the development of the country’s smart city and smart community projects, but they are not just developing these concepts in Japan.  They are also actively participating in projects in the United States, France, Spain, India and China.  There is a clear ambition across Japanese government and industry to lead the world in developing and deploying smart community solutions. 

Eric Woods is a research director at Navigant Research, a part of Navigant Consulting, Inc.

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