Rebuilding from 2011 Earthquake, Japanese Towns Choose to Go Off the Grid

Many of the cities in northern Japan damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami are building back their electric grids with renewable energy and micro-grids — bucking the nation’s old, centralized utility system by making communities in the region self-sufficient in generating electricity, Reuters reported.

The city of Higashi Matsushima, for example, lost nearly three-quarters of its homes and 1,100 people in the disaster, which also led to the meltdown of the nearby Fukushima Nuclear facility. The city, population 40,000, has since received money from Japan’s National Resilience Program to rebuild, choosing to construct micro-grids and decentralized renewable power, which currently supply about 25 percent of the city’s electricity needs.

Under a large-scale power system, a “blackout at one area would lead to wide-scale power outages,” Yusuke Atsumi, a manager at HOPE, the utility Higashi Matsushima created to manage the local generation and grid, told Reuters. “At the time of the Great East Japan earthquake, we couldn’t secure power and had to go through incredible hardships.”

Andrew Dewit, a professor of energy policy at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, told  Reuters that Higashi Matsushima is one of dozens of towns in northern Japan going off the large-scale grid. “Since Fukushima, there has been a gradual elaboration of policies to realize that kind of local-autonomy, local-consumption paradigm,” he said.