Michael Kanellos: - March 5, 2010
Coming to America: The Japanese Home?
Smart grid tests in New Mexico could lead to some really cool household appliances.
Japan has some of the most energy efficient homes and office buildings in the world. Now, a consortium of companies and researchers will try to figure out how well some of the underlying technologies play in the U.S.
The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) today formally unfurled a series of smart grid initiatives with national laboratories and utilities in New Mexico. Under the alliance, companies like Hitachi, Panasonic, NTT DoCoMo, Mitsubishi and others will integrate prototype and existing technologies into buildings and grids and then test them out.
In one experiment, for instance, a microgrid will be equipped with a hybrid storage system consisting of sodium sulfur and lead acid batteries while homes on the same grid will be rigged up with solar panels and individual lithium ion battery packs for storing power from the solar array. An office building, meanwhile, will be equipped with solar panels, a large (80-kilowatt) fuel cell and other technologies.
Other experiments will examine and test security and reliability of the grid. New Mexico is a great place for testing these technologies, I was told: the homes will have to endure hail, lightning, high altitude and other environmental extremes.
If all goes well, the four-year experiment will do more than just compile data. It could serve as a proof point for many Japanese companies. Panasonic has been preparing a smart home strategy over the last several years. Check out this video of Panasonic's latest demonstration home in Tokyo complete with a home fuel cell, water-efficient appliances, and automatically dimming LED bulbs.
In 2007, company executives told me that it was largely contemplating delivering these technologies to customers in Japan and maybe Europe. Since then, the market for energy efficiency and smart grid technologies in the U.S. -- along with the incentives to retrofit -- have grown.
At Ceatec outside of Tokyo in late 2009, Sharp showed off a number of home technologies-home charging stations, LED bulbs-that it hopes to sell. Hitachi and others, meanwhile, have demonstrated energy efficient TVs that can serve as portals for home automation and energy management as well as novel washing machines and household appliances. More video here.
To date, perhaps the one thing that Japanese companies have lacked is simply the willingness to aggressively market in the U.S. The conservative tack of many Japanese companies when it comes to marketing their domestic energy efficiency technologies in the U.S. was one of the big topics at a recent clean tech summit sponsored by the Japanese External Trade Organization in San Francisco. Rob Schmitz, the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for KQED, recently visited a modular home builder while on a reporting trip in Japan.
These are fantastic, he told the builder. Are you going to bring these to the U.S.?
"'Hmmm.....Maybe Australia,' he said," Schmitz told me.
New Mexico might help prod that along.