Navigant Research Blog

Japan’s METI Supporting Smart City Projects

— July 2, 2015

According to Navigant Research, a smart city is characterized by the integration of technology into a strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well-being, and economic development. While there may be various definitions of a smart city, in many cases, smart cities are desired in order to cope with the growing urban population, achieve sustainability goals, and maintain economic competitiveness through innovation and technology development. In addition, city resilience—the ability to recover from catastrophic events—has become increasingly important in the context of climate change.

In Japan, smart city projects are being led by the central government and local governments, as well as by the private sector. However, due to the centralized political model and events requiring national response, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, large-scale smart city projects are usually initiated by the central government through the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). After the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, Japan had a distinct motive to promote smart cities as means to reconstruct affected urban areas.

Subsidized Projects

There have been two waves of smart city projects subsidized by the METI under its Science, Technology and Innovation budget. The first wave of projects is the Test Projects for Next-Generation Energy and Social System. In 2010, METI solicited local governments for smart city project applications. In April 2010, four cities were selected—Yokohama, Toyota City, Keihanna, and Kitakyushu—to receive METI subsidies that amount to ¥126.5 million. Initially, the pilot cities focused on improving the quality of life and showcasing innovative technologies. However, after the 2011 earthquake, there was a paradigm shift to work toward reducing energy consumption and improving energy efficiency.

These four cities have become the first successful operational pilots in Japan. Some areas of success include demand response programs, which reduced consumption during peak period by 20% in Kitakyushu; home energy management (HEM) programs in which 1,500 homes in Yokohama had HEM systems installed in 2013; vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology; and smart metering. Details on these projects and updates can be found on the Japan Smart City Portal.

In 2012, METI pursued a second wave of subsidized smart city projects to reconstruct cities affected by the earthquake to become more resilient. In 2012, 10 cities were selected for the Projects for Promoting Introduction of Smart Communities program with a budget of ¥8.06 billion. Also, because of the widespread shutdown of the nation’s nuclear power plants post-Fukushima, Japan has been decidedly promoting renewable energy resources to meet its demand. In 2012, the country introduced a feed-in tariff system, as well. While the second wave of smart city projects is still in the planning stage, thanks to the earlier success in the four pilot cities, Japan is getting closer to realizing its aspiration to create the Japanese model of smart cities to export.

 

China Spurs EV Development

— April 28, 2015

China has aggressively supported the production and purchase of electric vehicles (EVs) since 2010. The government’s goal to deploy 500,000 EVs by 2015 may seem unrealistic. Nonetheless, this target serves as a reflection of the government’s intention to combat pollution and save energy by means of EV deployment. Chinese automakers have struggled to improve the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles. Between 2010 and 2014, fuel efficiency improved by 5.8% annually in Japan, 3.3% in Europe, and 1.8% in the United States—but only 1.1% in China. As such, the government’s support for EV deployment seems to be the preferred solution for China’s situation.

Incentives Spur the Market

Only around 70,000 EVs were on the road in China during 2014. This is still an almost 250% increase from the 2013 figure, and many experts forecast strong growth in the coming years. To further spur demand for EVs, the government has implemented various incentive programs applicable to approved EV models, which are locally produced. As of 2014, there was a ¥35,000 ($5,600) purchase subsidy for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and a ¥60,000 ($9,700) purchase subsidy for battery electric vehicles (BEVs). BYD’s Qin, one of the most popular EVs in China, retails from around ¥210,000, but with government subsidies, customers usually pay between ¥120,000 and ¥160,000 for the PHEV. Qin sold 11,200 units in the first 10 months of 2014.

In addition, the 10% purchase tax is waived for new energy autos, which include EVs, PHEVs, and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). The government plans to allocate around ¥4 billion for this tax initiative, which is in effect between September 1, 2014 and December 31, 2017. Because the tax break applies to imported EVs as well, foreign car makers have been eager to enter the Chinese market. In 2014, BMW’s i3 and i8 EVs, as well as the Daimler and BYD joint venture EV model Denza, were launched in China. On top of the central government’s efforts, incentive programs and EV targets exist in mega-cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. Beijing plans to deploy 170,000 electric taxis and at least 4,500 electric buses by 2017.

Due to the strong government support, many Chinese automakers, such as SAIC Motor, Dongfeng Motor, FAW, and Changan, as well as automobile components companies, are nowadays interested in manufacturing EVs. In March 2014, Wanxiang, an auto parts manufacturer, acquired American EV maker Fisker. Also, Foxconn, an IT manufacturer, has partnered with Tesla to enter the EV market.

Opportunities and Challenges  

Even though it’s difficult for foreign companies to enter the Chinese EV market, some—including General Motors (GM), Nissan, Hyundai, and Daimler—have jumped on the bandwagon via joint ventures with Chinese companies. However, two major variables are critical to China’s future EV market growth—charging infrastructure and battery technology. While charging equipment and infrastructure investment became open to the private sector recently to speed up development and construction, China lacks a national infrastructure standard. This can lead to operability issues from one city to another.

In addition, Chinese EV battery technology is in a transition from lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries to manganese-series batteries. Most EV markets around the world use lithium manganese oxide (LMO) and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NCM) batteries, which have better performance than LFP batteries. However, Chinese battery manufacturers currently lag behind their competitors in Japan, South Korea, and the United States in this area. Therefore, battery technology, as well as charging infrastructure standards and governance, will significantly influence the future of China’s EV market along with the sustainability of the current incentive programs and subsidies.

 

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