The Japanese capital of Tokyo last week was host to World Smart Energy Week, a trade event comprising nine shows spanning battery technology, PV solar, wind energy and smart grid.
Metering.com was there and brings you a round-up of the top trends from the 5th International Smart Grid Expo.
1. Smart meters in Japan
The word from government, academics and utilities was clear - Japan's plan for liberalizing the electricity sector puts smart meters as a vital sensor at the heart of the smart grid.
Under the Japanese model, advanced metering units act as a conduit between the A route - everything that happens before electricity enters a home, - and the B route, where energy demand is controlled within the customer's environment through a home energy management system.
Smart meters are seen as playing an essential role in helping players further upstream to correct imbalances between supply and demand by reporting data in 30 minute intervals with a 60-minute lag.
The country expects to install 70 million smart electricity meters by the end of the national rollout. Meters are being made by consortia of Japanese and Taiwanese manufacturers supplying the metering module, and Japanese and Japanese-subidiary companies such as Toshiba's Landis+Gyr providing the communication module.
2. Urgent need for smart grid
The failure of the Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima following what is known as the Great East earthquake in 2011 prompted the government to adopt reform of the power system to ensure a future stable supply at lower costs to customers through market liberalisation.
The country kickstarts the reform programme in 2016 and will complete the full unbundling of the electricity system by 2020.
Add to this Tokyo hosting the Olympic Games in 2020 and there is an urgency to install smart grid infrastructure within the next five years.
The country's largest utility Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO) declared they will have 27 million smart meters in the field by 2020.
Can it be done? One industry insider, who asked not to be named, feels there is a disconnect between what utility's are officially saying and what is happening on the ground.
3. Future bright for solar PV
Solar PV technology had a greater presence at the show in 2015 with all major Japanese electronics companies such as Mitsubishi Electric, Toshiba and Panasonic, showcasing PV panels for residential use as part of more comprehensive smart home energy system.
At the top end of Japan's energy planning, the integration of renewable energy, both wind and solar PV, is seen as a vital element of energy security.
The challenge for Japan, according to Yasuhiro Hayashi, professor at the faculty of science and engineering at Waseda University, is to maintain the quality of power under a massive integration of PV, aggregating solar volume and improving output suppression.
4. Metering connectivity
A big question raised around the Smart Grid Expo hall was if Japan's utilities had cracked the connectivity issue.
Officially they have and two of the technology providers for major rollouts - Toshiba and Mitsubishi Electric - both confirmed they are using a golden triangle of communication methods - cellular for rural areas, wireless 920MHz radio frequency for urban areas and PLC for households in high-rise buildings.
5. Energy management systems
Under the Japanese smart grid model, energy demand from the customer side is managed by variations of energy management systems to control and reduce demand, from communities (CEMS) to buildings (BEMS) and households (HEMS).
These types of systems manage what Japan defines as the B route, so anything that happens after the smart meter.
Utilities, which are supplying the system hardware, are adopting both automated and customer-led reduction in energy usage.
6. New power industry players
The Japanese utility model faces a potential threat from electricity deregulation opening the door to new power producers and suppliers.
In September 2013, the country had 106 registered PPS companies. In January 2015, it had 526 companies, with 40 signing up to be electricity retailers in the past month.
Industry insiders spoke about a large number of these new entrants coming from the telecommunication sector, bringing with them expertise at customer engagement.
7. Batteries for energy storage
The blackouts that followed the failure of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy plant plus the threat of future natural disasters is seen as a reason why consumers would invest in home energy storage systems.
Many of the HEMS systems also rely on having stored energy from renewable sources as a way to balance the demand/supply needs of the grid.
In pictures: World Smart Energy Week 2015