Japan looks to district heating and microgrids

The Japanese government is actively considering greater development of its decentralized energy resources in a bid to make its power infrastructure more resilient following the damage caused by recent natural disasters.

The publication of the Energy Innovation Strategy by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry calls for the promotion of microgrids and distributed energy technologies to improve the resilience of the country’s power grid. It also aims to use the country’s gas capability to improve overall energy security.
Japanese flag
"The demand for gas may be influenced by the rollout of resilient ‘smart cities’, as a lot of [the plans for] them involve gas-fired district heating and cooling and back-up generation for microgrids," said Andrew DeWit, a professor at the University of Rikkyo.

The government anticipates 15% of all power will come from cogeneration plants by 2030, boosting demand for gas as the majority of them will run on the fuel. However, it remains uncertain how this will affect demand overall as growth in the decentralised sector will lower demand from big power plants.

"We do not know if the inherent efficiencies of distributed generation, particularly via cogeneration, mean that the demand for gas in a more decentralised system would be less than current demand for the highly centralised system in place," DeWit said.

Natural Gas Daily reports that whether demand grows will depend on how quickly the proposed distributed energy grids are rolled out, but there is substantial political and public support for the initiative.

The government has increased the amount of funding available for boosting the resilience of the energy system by 18.5% on an annual basis in its budget for the 2017 financial year, to $42 billion.

A poll by the National Institute for Environmental Studies showed using state funds to build resilience was the most popular option among the public for Japan’s energy mix.

The expansion of decentralised systems should limit the role nuclear and coal can play in Japan’s energy mix as demand for power from centralised sources will decline. Instead, there will be a greater need for flexible gas generation to provide back-up for the smaller grids.



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