My high school in Japan installed solar panels on the school roof when it was undergoing earthquake retrofitting and when it was all done, we had a TV mounted on a wall in the entrance displaying the status of the panels. It was a,”Hey look we have solar panels!” kind of screen.
Since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan has been trying to move away from nuclear power and towards renewable energy sources. Nuclear power plants were shutdown. As a result, the summer of 2012 was a really hot one. My city in Kansai, along with the entire region, was on a rolling blackout schedule and people were being encouraged to conserve power. One of my local department stores didn’t even turn on the a/c that year.
Anyway! Since people did not want to start up nuclear reactors across the country due to the Fukushima disaster, Japan needed to start looking towards alternative energy sources to keep the power on. Rolling blackout schedules was not a very good long term plan. According to Forbes, solar power usage has been increasing each year and provided up to 5% of Japan’s total power consumption in fiscal year 2016.
In Kagoshima Bay off of Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, one solution has been to build a solar power plant island in the bay. It’s called the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant and it can power up to 22,000 homes. In an even grander idea, the Japanese company Shimizu Corporation has plans to build solar panels on the Moon’s equator. They would then transmit energy to the Earth via microwaves and lasers. More on both of these ideas from the Smithsonian Magazine.
If the Moon is too far or a solar power island a bit too much, then you can stay on land in the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town. This was another initiative that was brought on from the Great East Japan Earthquake. The town’s first residents moved in in 2014.
Embed from Getty Images
The town’s infrastructure pivots around a smart grid connecting every building to a central real-time energy network — essential when juggling the variables of renewable technology and real-world demands.
Feeding into this smart grid, every house is fitted with solar panels for electricity generation, a Panasonic ECO-CUTE heat-pump-driven hot-water system, and the world’s first domestic-sized ENE-FARM household fuel-cell generator. These then feed into the self-distributing SMARTHEMS (Home Energy Management System) that redistributes the energy around the house.
The houses — designed and built by Panasonic’s PanaHome division — have been tested to 1.8 times the recent Great East Japan Earthquake.
Natural-disaster planning is of paramount importance in Japan, which is why Fujisawa’s connected energy system has been designed to generate and store enough power for three days of off-grid operation. To top up the community energy needs, a large solar farm was constructed in the south, plus another 400m of solar cells along the highway.
Houses built by PanaHome Corp. stand at the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, developed by a consortium led by Panasonic Corp., in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. The smart town held its grand opening today. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
In Yemen too, solar power was born from tragedy, though in a more practical and not out-of-this-world kind of way. As a result of the war, people needed an alternative energy source. That’s where solar power comes in. According to the Center for International Studies, electricity supplies were down 70%, many power stations destroyed, and fuel prices skyrocketing as a result of the war. As of July of last year, solar energy consumption more than quadrupled in Yemen since the war began a couple years earlier.
From Al Jazeera:
Since 2015 the city of Taiz in southwest Yemen has seen heavy fighting between Houthi rebels and government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition. The war-torn country has also been hit by deadly floods in recent weeks. But some residents in Taiz are managing to keep life going thanks to solar power.
“Here in Taiz, we’ve had no electricity for around two and a half years. Some people can afford alternative energy products but the majority, who haven’t received their salaries in months, can’t even afford to eat properly.”
IDP BUILDING, IBB CITY, YEMEN. 01/21/2017 A recently displaced man from Taiz on the roof of a former government building in the suburbs of Ibb. The building was provided by local authorities to house 53 families, among the many thousands of people who fled here from Taizz region after heavy fighting flared up in the summer of 2015. The building in which they now live has no electricity or running water. The displaced families installed solar panels on the roof of the building, which provide enough power for rudimentary lighting at night. Many of the children help their parents by collecting water and tending to the younger children in the building. (Photo by Giles Clarke for UN OCHA / Getty Images)
Not only are the solar panels beneficial to providing power to cities, but they’re also good for business. In this article from the New York Times in May 2016, one man turned a minibus into a store that sells solar kits, another installed a solar panel on his ice cream cart, and one man learned all he could about solar panels so that he could sell them.
In this candid video, you can see how solar panels are helping small villages in southern Yemen. People installed the panels that were imported from China on street lamps to make once dark villages bright. There’s no dialogue in the video so you can watch without sound.
In another candid video, you can see how solar panels are being used to pump water. The power from the solar panels generates so much electricity that the force of the pumped water is stronger than that of the previous power generator and is used to irrigate plants, such as dates and vegetables. This video was taken in Habban, Shabwa province.
Ignore that it says 10 minutes long. It’s actually 5. The second half repeats itself.
Two different countries, two different tragedies, and many creative ways to make life better.