Reconstruction a golden opportunity for eco-communities

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

While rebuilding the Tohoku coast progresses at a snail’s pace, experts say hints for re-creating the region into a leading area that relies on reusable energy can already be found in many communities across the globe.

“Fukushima has the potential to lead the world” in the effort to building a “smart-city” region that depends less on fossil fuels, Richard Jones, deputy executive director of the International Energy Agency, said during a seminar in the city of Fukushima earlier this month.

During his keynote speech at the International Energy Seminar, titled “Smart Community Proposals for Reconstructing the Disaster-Affected Areas,” the former U.S. diplomat said models of leading-edge communities are already thriving elsewhere, including in England and Germany.

One example is the Beddington Zero Energy Development, known as BedZED, completed in 2002 as a housing development in London, Jones said.

The community is designed to rely on renewable resources generated on-site, including by generating electricity with solar panels and using and recycling rainwater.

The housing, which uses high thermal insulation, is built to face south to take advantage of solar heat as well.

The Vauban neighborhood in Germany is also designed as a community with low energy consumption that the Tohoku areas can learn a lot from, Jones added.

The district has refined its energy use and energy production to the point where it can sell surplus energy and turn a profit for the residents. The layout of Vauban makes it easy for residents to access public transportation, which has decreased their reliance on privately owned cars.

While rebuilding and redesigning the devastated coastline should “involve all stakeholders,” Jones noted that Fukushima has the chance to turn itself into a state-of-the-art region focused on environmental conservation.

“This is your destiny,” Jones told the audience in Fukushima.

Shuzo Murakami, president of the Institute of Building Environment and Energy Conservation, said in the same event that reconstruction is also an opportunity for the region to push forward a “new culture on energy use.”

“The public will be required to further cut down energy use with the nuclear accident taking place,” Murakami said, adding that it may be necessary in the near future to build communities that can create and store energy within their area.

Such drastic changes “should be managed not only by a single building but through the effort of a district, a region or even as an entire city,” Murakami advised.