Japan proposes huge smart meter roll-out to cut emissions

UN submission stresses country is committed to addressing climate change, despite recent decision to ditch 2020 commitments

(Pic: Flickr/Apple94)

(Pic: Flickr/Apple94)

By John McGarrity

Japan has proposed to install smart meters in every household and factory by the early 2020s and roll out the use of fuel cells to around 5 million homes, part of the country’s submission  to the UN on how it will cut carbon emissions.

The measures are aimed at reducing power consumption in Japan, which since the 2011 Fukushima  disaster has been burning more gas and coal to compensate for a closure of the country’s nuclear fleet. Its 2012 emissions rose 4.2% compared to 2011 levels.

Asia’s richest large country said at UN climate talks last November that it would target a 3.8% emissions cut by 2020 compared with 2005 levels – just a fraction of the 25% at the top end of what was proposed previously.

Poor countries claim ‘bottom-up’ measures such as energy efficiency measures were little more than a convenient and relatively cheap fig leaf as cover against weak action elsewhere.

Report: UK slams Japan’s decision to ditch climate target

Japan so far has failed to impose a carbon cap on power generators and large manufacturers, which in Japan have lobbied successfully against tough targets and the possibility of high carbon prices.

Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest energy user, said last year it had to scale back the ambition of future carbon cuts because of the impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Other developed countries, such as Britain, have already outlined plans to introduce smart meters to reduce energy use in households and drive down carbon emissions.

But some experts are sceptical that the use of digital software in homes, businesses and factories can make a major difference without close co-ordination between utilities and their customers on real-time energy use.

“Unless households and power companies can communicate seamlessly on how to manage energy use and design tariffs that reduce peakload demand from fossil-fuel dependent energy grids, smart meters will only provide a very small contribution to cutting carbon emissions,” said Keith Tovey, an academic specialising in low carbon technology at the UK’s University of East Anglia.

Mixed impact

Pilot schemes in Britain have shown that many customers stopped paying close attention to the digitalised information provided by meters and that the technology requires a greater deal of monitoring and effort than had been previously supposed.

Proposals to fit out homes and factories with smart meters are commonplace in plans submitted by developed countries to the UN.

In the UK, the government wants every home to have a smart meter by 2020, part of a 12 billion pound programme to provide customers with real time information on the energy consumption of heating, lighting and electrical appliances.

The UN required that developed countries had submitted plans by the start of the year on how to cut carbon emissions in future decades.

Japan’s submission in November for a less ambitious carbon reduction target angered poor countries most at risk of catastrophic climate change.

And Japan’s industrial and technology sectors look set to reap big rewards from a future roll-out of smart meters, and fuel cells for cars and household electricity and heating.

Toshiba, one of Japan’s biggest conglomerates and a major manufacturer smart meters, looks set to reap the lion’s share of a move to real-time monitoring of power use in developed countries.

Last year the company landed a deal to install its products at households supplied by electricity from Tepco, Japan’s largest utility that supplies 27 million customers.

In 2013 Toshiba also signed a deal to supply smart meters to UK utility Centrica as part of the country’s energy efficiency programme.

In fuel cells, Japan is viewed to be lagging countries such as the USA, where subsidies for fuel cell use are much more generous.

Japan’s submission to the UN said the country would promote an advanced research and development programme to lower costs and standardize the technology and introduce 5.3 million fuel cells by 2030.

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