Are smart towns the wave of the future?
Panasonic Corporation (OTC: PCRFY) and eight other companies plan on converting a portion of Japan’s Fujisawa City into a center for the latest advances in energy efficiency, titled the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town.
A former Panasonic plant near Tokyo will be used as the launch site. The town itself will hold a capacity of 3,000 townspeople.
Total cost for the Panasonic smart city will come to 60 billion yen ($700 million), and it will be fully completed by 2014. The town could reach maximum occupancy by 2018.
The city will be supported by such renewable sources as heat, wind, and solar channeled into battery storage containers.
The technology will be no different than what has been previously used within the renewable energy sector, only it will be on a much larger scale, and different types of renewable energy sources will have a chance to co-exist.
It is a good PR campaign for green energy, showing the world that alternative energy can sustain an entire town without need for nuclear power or fossil fuels. If all goes well, there will be more towns of this magnitude in the future.
Tokyo has already pledged six energy-conscious cities.
Besides energy, every consideration will be given toward spacing and engineering. Japan is one of the highest tech nations in the world, but it still suffers from outmoded infrastructure.
Still, Japan is considered one of the more energy conscious nations on the planet—outputting 8,400 kilowatt hours compared to 13,400 kilowatt hours from the United States, CNN reports.
But in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown, Japan is weighing its energy options more closely.
Only two out of 50 nuclear plants are currently online in Japan, forcing the nation to import more fossil fuel resources. Japan is now the largest importer of liquefied natural gas in Asia.
Before the Fukushima incident, nuclear power made up 13% of Japan’s energy composition. Coal comprised 22%, natural gas was 18%, and oil was 42% after undergoing an 80% decline since the 1970s. Japan is heavily reliant on conventional fuel sources, but hydrogen accounted for 3% of the nation’s power and renewable energy for 1%.
Japan already has the most advanced hydrogen-based technology in the world. Maebaru City is being projected as the world’s largest hydrogen-powered town. But the government has been focusing on geothermal power and solar as of late, even going so far as to provide a feed-in tariff program where residents can sell solar energy to the government and solar users can sell excess energy to utility companies.
With such a strong foundation in place for alternative energy, Japan is the perfect location for constructing an energy-autonomous community.
Smart Town Components
Fujisawa SST will provide eight major services: healthcare, mobility, club services, asset management, finance, community, energy, and security.
The town will be essentially run as a business, with the help of local government, residents, and other service companies working with Panasonic and its partners.
Panasonic’s other partners are PanaHome Corporation (TYO: 1924), Mitsui Fudosan Residential Co. Ltd. (TYO: 8801), Mitsui & Co. (OTCMKTS: MITSY), Dentsu Inc. (TYO: 4324), Nihon Sekkei Inc., Tokyo Gas Co. Ltd. (TYO: 9531), Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East Corporation (TYO: 9432), and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank, Limited (TYO: 9316).
With Panasonic, these companies will comprise the Fujisawa SST Management Company.
The town management company will sustain the town in part by using sales from solar technology and reinvesting back into the community.
Charging stations will be fixed around the city to help charge electric cars, electrical assisted bicycles, and EV bikes. The 47 acreage town will have 1,000 detached homes—all with individualized storage batteries and solar systems. The homes will be built with advanced ventilation systems, so inhabitants can enjoy quality airflow and natural sunlight.
In public, network sensors will control street and traffic lights.
When it comes to transportation, there will be sharing services for electric cars and battery centers where residents can rent rechargeable batteries. It is also a friendly place for those who have no form of transportation. Transportation efficiency will reduce traffic congestion and maximize space—promoting an atmosphere of health and wellness where residents are free to walk or run without being hampered by the inconvenience and dangers of heavy traffic.
Security will be in place through a “virtual gated town,” an invisible barrier in the form of cameras and sensor lights, putting residents at ease without the restrictions of a physical barrier.
As innovative as the smart town may sound, it remains to be seen if it will catch on. If it does, it is a great chance for different facets of the energy field.
Smart Town Investment
Foreign investment is needed to sustain Panasonic’s smart town and future ones to come. Japan will be a place where renewable energy insiders and investors can support their chosen fields.
We’re already seeing solar technology making vast inroads into suburban residencies and utility companies in Europe and North America. It would be a major triumph not only for energy, but for technology and engineering as well.
In terms of investment capital, Japan is set to become the largest market for solar in the world.
On Panasonic’s end, the company gets the distinction of becoming a trendsetter in the smart town market. By 2018, the 100th anniversary of Panasonic’s founding, the company aims to become a major pioneer within the green energy sector.
It is not an impossible scenario to see more smart towns being constructed all over Japan and around the world. Developed and developing nations could benefit from city planning, and more of these smart towns will benefit local communities while contributing more power to national grids.
Smart towns could catch on in Europe, but it will be a long while before the U.S. begins to entertain planned communities—especially since the U.S. is currently undergoing a fossil fuel drilling boom.
But this isn’t to say there’s no market for smart towns in the U.S.; Uncle Sam currently has a D grade in infrastructure, and the nation’s energy grid is long overdue for change. Smart towns will have to be adaptable to different regions and nationalities, but they can work outside of Japan.
Technocratic towns may be in the seedling stages right now, but there are definite markets for them around the world.
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