Self-reliance through sustainable energy

How a city invested in clean energy to boost its environment and economy.
“We have energy high in our priorities because it is directly linked to the economy”

In Yonago, a city on the Japan Sea coast, electricity provider Local Energy is contributing to a stronger regional economy with clean, renewable energy. Based in the city of 147,000 in Tottori prefecture, the company was founded in 2015 with investment from the city and five local firms. “Yonago used to depend entirely on electricity produced elsewhere,” says Masaki Mori, the company’s senior managing director. This was bad news for the economy. “An estimated ¥100bn (€823m) was flowing out of the prefecture every year. We wanted to reverse this trend.”

Private and public sectors joined forces to supply renewable energy from solar panels, hydropower and biomass stations to homes, city hall, schools and museums across the city. Today there is a positive cycle. “We have a 10 per cent share of 100,000 households,” says Mori. “We reinvest this money back into the community.” Local Energy has introduced rechargeable batteries at an emergency evacuation centre and a smart building energy-management system in schools, which has lowered consumption and reduced costs.

Energy and the economy go hand in hand. “We have energy high in our priorities because it is directly linked to the economy,” says Masaki Ishikawa from the city’s environmental policy division. “We’re facing the issue of decreasing population across the country and how to sustain a city or region is a challenge.” Having an independent energy supply serves another purpose. “There is a disaster preparedness aspect too as we’re increasingly experiencing torrential rainfalls, massive typhoons and other disasters that have caused electricity blackouts.”

The joint effort has also raised public awareness. “These days more citizens are thinking about where their electricity is coming from,” says Mori. “We see ourselves as a platform for a sustainable society.”

Digitally decisive

Japan is fast transforming its energy-management systems to work digitally. In the next five years, Smart Metre will be installed in every household nationwide. The unit allows both producers and users to monitor electricity consumption in half-hour intervals, thus helping to reduce excess supply and wasteful usage. Digital Grid, a start-up from the University of Tokyo, is also developing a blockchain-based platform that provides transparent information on the types and origins of energy sources that are on offer. This will allow individual users to make more ethical decisions and to purchase directly from energy producers.