Wednesday, 6 April 2011


The current situation has started me thinking about electricity. It's not something I have ever given a lot of thought to. When I was little, I found it odd that Mrs Collins, who used to baby sit us on occasion, used to have a near obsessive compulsion with turning out any lights that weren't being used. I thought at the time that if I am going back in there soon, what is the point of turning it off... And after uni my sister Madeline & I opted for 25% green power - it cost a bit more but we felt very ecologically responsible. In Tokyo we don't have aircon - much to the disbelief of almost anyone I know - but that's more to do with me not liking aircon than with concerted efforts to be ecological. There is no green power option here. Tokyo, and actually all modern cities, have developed in the post war era with the assumption that electricity is available. Trains, high rises, traffic lights, shopping malls, banking systems, airports, hospitals, ordering systems, refridgeration, street lights... ad infinitum

Where I grew up in Aus, electrical storms still cause power outages and people & shops can make do for a few hours with out too much inconvenience. But without electricty a city like Tokyo doesn't just lose aesthetic appeal with a black out, it can't function.  I was talking to a friend the other day whose bath has no taps - without electricity you can't fill it. A lot of people have toilets with electric flush. I learned the other day that if we have a blackout our toilet isn't going to work because the water needs to be pumped up from down stairs - no tank on the roof.  As part of the 'barrier free' efforts,  escalators have been replacing stairs.  At a station nearby, the newly installed escalator is now roped off ... The city is built on people commuting long distances.  Without the trains people can't travel in. Without a cold chain there is no meat or dairy.

At the same time as Tokyo consumes so much energy, it produces very little. The city has grown with the assumption that there will be cheap electricity produced in the regions at no social or environmental cost to residents. Only eleven percent of Tokyo's energy is produced in Tokyo.  And of Tokyo's energy consumption, a staggeringly tiny 0.7% only  is renewable.  Of the new buildings around here none I can think of has solar panels -even though Tokyo is a very sunny place - especially in winter.  As far as I know it is not possible for individuals to produce energy that goes back into the grid.  Geothermal production is negligible despite it being such a volcanic place - apparently part of the reason for this is that onsen (hot spring) businesses worry that it will damage the water supply.

Imagination is needed.  Can a city like Tokyo re-cast itself to need minimal energy? Not entirely I suspect - though it can certainly do better.  More realistically how can Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, find ways to produce energy safely and cleanly?   I don't think the regions, like Fukushima,  are going to keep tolerating being the dumping grounds for Tokyo's energy needs indefinitely.  And nor should they.

I have been reliably informed - see Heidi's comment below - that it is indeed possible to sell electricity back into the grid. I am not sure whether there are incentives to install solar power, but I hope the new Tokyo Met. Govt. apartment blocks going up near here will have them installed.... I hope that a legacy of the current disaster is more effort put into clean, sustainable energy...

From wikipedia
For more detail on Tokyo's energy ideas - disappointing in the lack of specifics.

The escalator that was formerly a staircase - now roped off

With a roped off escalator, the exit has become quite narrow.

Christmas lights on Omotesando  looking much like the
Charleston parties of the twenties might have looked like to people in the
dole queues of the Depression.....
A travelator bridge to Harumi is also looking rather excessive
three storied car parks need electricity - what to do in a blackout! 


Anonymous said...

I am in the middle of building a house and through this have discovered that I can put solar panels on my house and have the electricity back into the grid. There is some fancy display panel that will show how much electricity was generated on a given day, how much of that was used in the house and how much of that goes into the grid.

I was considering putting the panels (even before the quake) but have been told to hold off for now as technology for this is really taking off now and if I buy the panels in 2 or 3 years time, they will be much more efficient (and possibly even cheaper).

Cecilia said...

What great information. That is fantastic. I've been reading misinformation then. I really hope that there is a big push to solar after this...

Electrical Continuing Education said...

Well I also like to think about having a solar powered house. It is free since it uses the power of the sun and I think it's time to make use of our natural resources. But it's a really costly investment. The price is no joke.