A Miyagi city's efforts to rebuild its electrical power system after 3/11 mark a quiet shift away from Japan's old utility model and toward self-reliant, local generation and transmission. After losing three-quarters of its homes and 1,100 people in the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the city of Higashimatsushima in Miyagi Prefecture turned to the government's "national resilience program," with ¥3.72 trillion in funding for this fiscal year, to rebuild. The city of 40,000 chose to construct microgrids and decentralized renewable power generation to create a self-sustaining system in Tohoku capable of producing an average of 25 percent of its electricity without the need of the region's power utility. The city's steps illustrate a massive yet little known effort to take dozens of the nation's towns and communities off the power grid and make them partly self-sufficient in generating electricity. "At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, we couldn't secure power and had to go through incredible hardships," said Yusuke Atsumi, a manager at Hope, the utility the city created to manage the local power generation and grid.
MORE than 100 million people around the world now have access to electricity for the first time thanks to simple solar power systems that typically provide LED lights and a phone charger. More powerful versions include radios and even televisions. The LEDs provide a clean and cheap alternative to the kerosene lamps normally used by those with no electricity. "People spend 50 cents a day on kerosene," says Nick Hughes, co-founder of M-KOPA Solar of Kenya, which has sold 550,000 home solar power systems in East Africa. Some families spend a tenth of their income on fuel for lighting.
We've been talking about the potential of hacker strikes on electric grids for years, and now it looks like the threat is imminent. Symantec reports that a group it calls Dragonfly is targeting energy and power sectors in the US and Europe, with the intention of both learning how these facilities operate as well as eventually gaining control over the systems. This isn't the first time we've heard of Dragonfly. Back in 2014, Symantec and other researchers identified the group as responsible for a series of attacks on US and European energy systems that stretched from 2010 to 2014. A joint analysis between the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI in 2016 tied Dragonfly to Russian malicious activity, though Symantec has been careful not to speculate on the origins of the group.
Electricity produced from commercial and industrial solar energy systems is now cheaper in Chinese cities than that supplied by the national grid. In addition, researchers found that when built into the local grid, solar generators produce lower-cost electricity than coal in 22 per cent of the country's cities. The findings suggest that there may now be an economic incentive that will promote the uptake of commercial and industrial solar power systems in China. China has become the global leader in the manufacturing of solar power systems -- an enthusiasm that may spread from export to national use. Chemical engineer Jinyue Yan of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology and colleagues estimated the total costs of setting up and running solar energy systems in Chinese cities and compared these costs with city-level grid electricity prices.
Along the remote southern coastline of Western Australia, the locals have cottoned on to a new, surefire way to keep their beer cold. The energy grid around Esperance and Ravensthorpe is unreliable at the best of times, but after a bushfire took out the poles and wires around these far-flung outback towns last year, the power company asked residents if they might be interested in trying out a more economically and environmentally sustainable way to keep the lights on and the bar fridge humming. Rather than fully rebuild the sprawling infrastructure required to reconnect all residents to the grid, network operator Horizon Power turned to WA renewables pioneer Carnegie Clean Energy to help roll out stand-alone solar and storage systems. The Carnegie managing director, Michael Ottaviano, said the scheme had led to a new phenomenon in the towns. "People assume the grid is something reliable and permanent, but in reality it is a centralised system with very long lines out to remote communities – it is in fact highly susceptible to failure," he says.