Japan’s First Zero Energy Neighborhood, a New Way of Living

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What if your home could earn you around USD 100 per month and you wouldn’t have to pay your electricity bills? It is happening now in Sakai City, prefecture of Osaka, Japan. There stand 29 family houses within a new residential zone called SMA-ECO (smart and ecological) Town Harumidai, the first net zero energy neighborhood (ZEN) in Japan.

Officially opened in June 2013, this residential area stands as a role model for ecological living concept. Collaborating with Sakai City, Daiwa House Industry, Co., one of Japan’s major housing manufacturers takes part to develop SMA-ECO Town Harumidai, the new environmental-friendly suburban living. Every house in this residential area uses self-generated renewable energy resources

These houses are located atop a hill and they cover an area of 16,754m2 where an elementary school once stood. Each house has the average land area of 176m2. They are two-story steel frame houses with a carport and solar panels on the south roof. The output capacity of these solar panels range from 4.3 to 5.2 kilowatts (kW),depending on the size of the house.The generated electricity is stored in a 6.2 kWh-class lithium-ion battery before it’s distributed to each home. To support energy saving, every home  also uses light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

Moreover, the government shows their stern move towards promoting this ecological living project by allocating 100 million yen to fund all the power generation equipment.

Meanwhile, architects focus on passive design for the houses. Their goal is to equip each house with good air circulation. They organize the layout and fix the windows in the house in order to effectively utilize the wind that blows over the hill. To prevent extreme changes in room temperature during winter and summer, each house uses a special fiber-glass as heat insulation material in the external wall.

In addition to these 29 houses, the city also has its own multi-purpose meeting hall, and by the end of this year will be completed with 16 more houses. The greatest advantage of living in a zero energy neighborhood is that the residents will never have to pay for their electricity bills. As a bonus, they can even earn some money by reducing their energy consumption. How do they enumerate energy consumption? Data about electricity consumption in each home and in the entire neighborhood are gathered through a set of gadget and software installed in each household. The excess electricity will be sold to the local grid, which is systematically connected to all of the houses’ solar panels. This system is in accordance with the national feed-in-tariff scheme for renewable energy.

In a strong sunny weather, these houses can achieve a self-sufficiency energy rate up to 100%. This rate may change depending on weather conditions. Naoki Wakihama, section manager of company’s Osaka Urban Development Department said that, each household that has moved in is eligible to earn extra bonus of 10.000 yen (about USD 100) per month from local power company based on the house’s latest performance.

However, zero energy neighborhood is not just about the buildings. It is also about the lifestyle of the residents and their efforts to minimize carbon emissions in their neighborhood. They should support the environmental-friendly policies. These policies, which will contribute in decreasing the area’s air temperature,also encourage the residents to look after the greeneries around them and maintain the outer wall surfaces that face the public road.

Sakai City has already become a milestone in the attempt to build more and more zero energy neighborhood in Japan. It obviously attracts people who realize the advantage of living in ZEN.The issue that often emerges in creating this kind of neighborhood is the distance between ZEN to the nearest city. In some cases, a ZEN is located in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, about half of the residents in this SMA-ECO Town Harumidai work nearby, while the rest work in Osaka City, which takes about an hour to reach using public transportation such as train.After all, a zero energy neighborhood is all about reducing carbon emissions from private vehicles and raising awareness about energy saving in a community. (AGB.com – YTA)

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