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Leading a national project for the construction of a next-generation smart grid

In order to solve the energy issues of the 21st century, it is essential to achieve a harmony of the “three Es”; namely, energy security, environmental protection and economic growth - Interview of Professor Yasuhiro Hayashi, RIANT Director.

Research Institute for Advanced Network Technology

Leading a national project for the construction of a next-generation smart grid

In order to solve the energy issues of the 21st century, it is essential to achieve a harmony of the “three Es”; namely, energy security, environmental protection and economic growth. How is it possible to simultaneously achieve these three Es which seem to be mutual exclusive? Since the start of real concern regarding the issue of global warming, an answer to this question has been sought in various ways.

Recently, smart grids are showing rapid growth as the best solution to this question. A smart grid is a next-generation electrical power grid. Smart grids are controlled by utilizing information communication technology (ICT) from both the suppliers (conventional large-scale power sources and renewable energy sources such as solar power) and users (energy consuming devices and energy storing devices) of electric power. Smart grids are capable of optimizing the power balance in order to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions. In addition to realizing simultaneous achievement of the three Es, the grids are also subject to great expectations as a next-generation social infrastructure that enables reciprocal growth of the three Es through a positive cycle. These expectations have led to a rapid succession of smart grid projects being started throughout the world. In the background of such projects is the construction of an electric society which is environmentally friendly and has a low amount of CO2 emissions, seeking to realize a low-carbon society. It is possible to realize major reductions in the amount of CO2 emissions and significant energy conservation by implementing a variety of interconnected activities within a vast power network Such activities include the large-scale implementation of environmentally friendly solar power, use of heat pumps and other equipment for converting heat energy to electricity, use of rechargeable battery for converting stored energy in electricity, and use of electricity in transportation methods through the spread of electric automobiles.

The impetus for such activities was the “Green New Deal” policy announced by the Obama administration in the U.S. This policy invests 150 billion dollars in renewable energy (over a period of 10 years) and aims to create 5 million jobs in green employment. In Japan, the Hatoyama administration of the DPJ announced a similar policy in 2009. Entitled the “Japanese Green New Deal”, this policy aims to expand the market scale of environmentally-related industries from 70 trillion yen to 100 trillion yen over a period of 5 years, and also aims to create more than 800 thousand jobs in green employment.

There are a number of differences between these new policies and conventional energy/environmental policies. The first difference is that the Green New Deal is positioned as the main pillar of a country’s economic growth policy. The second difference is that the governments have pledged large-scale public funding for the promotion of environmental business and the construction of next-generation power grids.

The development of smart grids contains aspects of international competition and competition between countries. The Research Institute for Advanced Network Technology (RIANT) is a Japanese R&D center that is implementing projects which lead development in all fields. The RIANT research institute is part of the Waseda University Organization for University Research Initiatives, which was established in 2009. We held a discussion with Mr. Yasuhiro Hayashi, RIANT Director and Professor in the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Our discussion focused on Waseda University’s work in smart grids, and on general trends in smart grids throughout all of Japan.

Japan’s electric transmission control is the world’s most stable

Power grids are actually a very sensitive system. Normally, users don’t notice the existence of power grids when they are functioning stabilizing. However, even a slight difference in the balance between power suppliers and power consumers will cause electrical transmission to stop. In order to conduct stable electrical transmission, the entire power grid must always maintain a perfect balance between the amount of power generated and the amount of power consumed. Electrical transmission must be maintained using stable wavelengths of 50 Hz, and the range of fluctuations must be kept to within the extremely small interval of ±0.2 Hz. When this range is exceeded on either the positive or negative side, the worst case scenario will result in power failure. However, the power generated by renewable energy sources fluctuates greatly every second due to changes in the amount of sunlight or wind speed. Therefore, while large-scale implementation of renewable energy sources is environmentally friendly, it is also extremely difficult from the perspective of controlling the stable supply of power.

“Japan’s control technology and control systems for electrical transmission and distribution boast the highest stability in the world. This is exemplified by Japan having the shortest annual power outage time in the world. For this reason, some people say that, unlike Europe and America, Japan has already completed the construction of a smart grid. If this is true, I have always thought that we should invigorate all of Japan by utilizing our superior position to lead the world in constructing smart grids which achieve a balance between the three Es of environment, energy and economy, even as rapid advances take place in the creation and use of new forms of energy like the implementation of renewable energy sources and the spread of electrical automobiles, rechargeable batteries and heat pumps.” (Professor Yasuhiro Hayashi, RIANT Director)

In addition to actions taken by the supply side, consumers in Japan have also begun to perform home generation of power in recent years. Home generation methods include solar power and wind power, and such methods focus on conserving energy and reducing CO2. Consumers also send excess power to the supply side. Through such methods, Japan has started to rapidly move towards the realization of a smart grid system that achieves next-generation transmission and distribution of electricity.

Professor Hayashi has long conducted research focused on the realization of smart grids, beginning from a time when the use of smart grid systems in Europe and America were still viewed with skepticism in Japan. Overseas research focuses on the use of smart meters and other home systems and interfaces in order to optimize household energy consumption. However, Professor Hayashi has continued to focus on the development of Japanese-type smart grids and has conducted empirical experiments that emphasize the optimization of the entire electrical transmission network, including reciprocal transmission control between suppliers and users.

“I have always believed that the success of Japanese-type smart grids is entirely dependent on a union of research in three areas. The first area is research in electrical transmission and distribution networks, the second area is research in solar power and the third area is research regarding demand load. (Diagram 1) It is no overstatement to say that Japan is the only country in the world that promotes total research in these three areas.” (Professor Hayashi)

Constructing Japan’s only simulation equipment

Until 2006, Japan was the world’s top annual producer of solar cells. However, Japan has been surpassed by Europe’s rapid expansion in production amount. The Japanese government is currently focusing on the full-scale implementation of solar power as one pillar of Japanese-type smart grids, and the government plans to regains Japan’s position as top producer. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has established the bold goal of expanding solar power to 28 million kilowatts (equivalent to 28 nuclear power plants) by 2020 and to 53 million kilowatts (equivalent to 53 nuclear power plants) by 2030 (Diagram 2), and is currently developing a variety of promotional strategies.

“In terms of solar power, Japan already possesses top-level technological ability and production ability. Now, the question is how can this strength be utilized in order to efficiently utilize solar energy which is returned from home generation systems to a next-generation power grid? In other words, the key to realizing a smart grid is detailed control technology which stabilizes reciprocal electrical transmission and distribution between the supply side and the demand side. Japan can establish unchallenged superiority in smart grids by constructing an overwhelming advantage in control technology for next-generation electrical transmission and distribution networks.” (Professor Hayashi)

As part of this national strategy, the “FY2010 Project to Substantiate Optimization Control Technology for Next-Generation Electrical Transmission/Distribution Systems” was started through open recruitment by the Power Infrastructure Development Section of the Electrical Power & Gas Department at the METI’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. This is a large-scale project featuring participation from a total of 28 entities composed of 3 universities (including Waseda University), 10 businesses/groups associated with electrical power, and 15 corporations. Professor Hayashi serves as the group leader for development of voltage fluctuation control technology in electrical transmission/distribution systems.

Next-generation advanced grid simulation equipment ANSWER (Active Network System With Energy Resources)

From 2005 to 2008, Professor Hayashi was selected for the industrial technology research grant project of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO; an independent corporation). During this time, Professor Hayashi constructed experimental equipment which is Japan’s only fully-functioning smart grid simulation equipment (see photograph). Professor Hayashi then greatly expanded this equipment in order to conduct development and empirical experiments for optimal voltage control technology on the distribution network side. The goal of the development and research was to place as little control as possible on the electrical generation of home-use solar power.

“Although there is a trend for most power system simulations to utilize only calculation experiments conducted on a computer, I do not approve of this method. I believed that the only way to conduct a meaningful empirical experiment was to develop physical simulation equipment which approximates actual power usage. Therefore, I constructed experimental equipment that recreates an actual power system, complete with distribution equipment, single-phase load equipment and inverters. Of course, this equipment only uses the equivalent of 1/30 of actual power. I then used this equipment to conduct experiments in controlling future power systems as the unified system previously discussed.” (Professor Hayashi)

Professor Hayashi has succeeded in simulating the future of Japan in 10 or 20 years. In this future, Japanese citizens perform home generation of solar power, have shifted to new lifestyles such as the use of electric automobiles and electricity in daily life, and return excess power stored in solar cells to electrical transmission networks.

Competing to set the global standard

Professor Hayashi also serves as chairperson of the “Committee to Examine a Smart Meter System”, which was established by the METI in May of 2010. Smart meters will be installed at each household in the near future. Smart meters possess the conventional meter function of accurate remote automatic measurement for power consumption. However, smart meters are also expected to function both as a control terminal for “smart power consumption” that will lead to energy conservation and reduction of CO2, and as a new type of home service terminal that fuses energy and communications. In the next few years, a fierce international competition will begin as each country attempts to set the global standard in smart meters and other smart grid technology.

On June 1st of 2010, Waseda University hosted a public lecture entitled “Goals of the Next-Generation Electrical Energy Society”. This lecture featured a meeting of key individuals from each industrial field who are leaders in the development of Japanese-type smart grids. The lecture was attended by more than 300 people.

“We are truly greeting the kind of major innovation that comes only once every 50 years. For citizens, it is a time to shift to a new period of sustainable economic growth. For the industry world, it is a business chance which may never be seen again. For the first time in a long time, everyone is moving forward with dreams of the future. I believe that universities play an extremely important role in conducting pragmatic debate to nurture this momentum in the proper direction.” (Professor Hayashi)

Waseda is also responding to this theme on a university-wide level. In November of 2009, a project entitled “Design and Construction of Future Electrical Energy Supply Systems” was selected as a priority research field. This project is promoted by the Research Institute for Advanced Network Technology. Furthermore, May of 2010 marked the start of a project entitled “Formation of a Smart Design Research Center for Future Electrical Energy Supply Systems”. In the next 5 years, this project seeks to establish a research center which will undertake high-level education and research in the field of future supply systems. The project was also selected for the MEXT’s “Program to Support the Strategic Formation of Research Infrastructure at Private Universities” (please refer to the MEXT homepage for further details).

Waseda University features a base anchored by the Consortium for Electric Power Technology. This consortium was founded in 1993 and has a long tradition as an industry-academia cooperative organization. At this very moment, the Research Institute for Advanced Network Technology at Waseda University is playing a leading role in the creation of next-generation technology and next-generation professionals who will support the formation of a next-generation smart grid society.

[Interview/Layout: Emiko Tayanagi]

Related Links

Research Institute for Advanced Network Technology
Organization for University Research Initiatives
Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University
Consortium for Electric Power Technology
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