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Gifu electronics firm Ibiden draws acclaim for its embrace of renewable energy

Chunichi Shimbun

As more firms shift to renewables to power their operations, electronics and ceramics components maker Ibiden Co., based in Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture, is drawing international attention as a forerunner in clean energy use.

“Ibiden is the first company in Japan to pledge it will power all of its Apple manufacturing with 100 percent renewable energy,” client Apple Inc. said in a statement in March last year.

Apple’s announcement suddenly put the century-old firm in the spotlight. Many global companies have started asking their manufacturing partners to transition to cleaner energy sources amid an increasingly pressing need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide — a key contributor to global warming.

Ibiden was founded in 1912 near the Ibi River as a utility, when business leaders in Ogaki looked to develop power sources to attract more companies to the region. Although its core business later shifted to the electrochemical industry, it still owns three hydroelectric power stations with a total generating capacity of 27,900 kilowatts.

The 14,600-kW Higashiyokoyama power station, the company’s oldest that remains in operations, has been running since 1921. At the red-brick plant, a generator is driven by a water mill connected by a tall vertical shaft.

“The (power station’s) impact on ecosystems including fish is limited,” said Ibiden official Kyoichi Yamanaka, who explained that the plant takes water from a small weir instead of building a dam. Apple also noted the firm’s eco-friendly approach.

Following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, Ibiden started using solar power. Its total solar generation capacity, which includes use of panels that float on water, tops 11,000 kW.

The company also owns 189 transmission towers and transmission lines extending 42 kilometers, and sells power — which partly offsets the electricity used at the firm’s factory. Ibiden does not disclose its total power consumption, but through hydro and solar power it produces electricity that can cover more than 70,000 households.

“Considering the scale of the Ibi River, we have room to increase our power generation,” says Takuji Asai, 54, manager of the firm’s energy control unit. “We hope to utilize natural energy while handing down to future generations our technology and knowledge regarding electricity.”

Similar efforts to go green in the Chubu region include those at a factory in the city of Fukui operated by Tokyo-based cable maker Fujikura Dia Cable Ltd. Since April, the factory has been powering its manufacturing with 100 percent renewable energy. Internationally, an initiative by businesses to declare commitment to 100 percent renewable power — dubbed RE100 — was launched in 2014, and Japanese companies such as Ricoh Co. and Sekisui House Ltd. have joined.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published July 12.