Enphase Supports American-Japanese Energy Collaboration

Mar 09, 2015

Enphase Supports American-Japanese Energy Collaboration

By Thomas Lee, Senior Product Manager

Two weeks ago, I was in Tokyo at the third meeting of the Japan-U.S. Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy Business Roundtable, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Japanese Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). This annual event seeks to uncover new business opportunities while exchanging ideas on renewable energy technologies and government policies.

Meetings like the Roundtable remind me of how amazing it is to be involved in the energy industry and the electric power sector at this point in history. I remember being an undergraduate at Stanford in the early days of the Internet, a time of rapid technological change that looked to me just as the energy industry does today.

Today, I have a front-row seat to changes and innovation taking place in the energy industry—many of which are being developed by Enphase. Key topics of discussion at this year’s roundtable included the integration of renewables onto the grid, energy storage, smart grids and smart energy management. It was exciting to talk about these new ideas and technologies with so many influential business leaders and government officials. A particular highlight for me was meeting the U.S. Ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, at an Embassy reception following the day's discussions.

Thomas Lee and U.S. ambassador Kennedy

Thomas Lee and U.S. ambassado

During the roundtable I presented Enphase’s position on how networked PV inverters can be a resource for integrating distributed generation into the grid. The addition of communications and intelligent management capabilities to PV inverters can enable distributed solar to become a fully integrated resource for active grid management, rather than simply a passive grid-connected generator.

Enphase announced an example of this type of integration last month when it worked with Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. (HECO) to remotely upgrade 800,000 smart microinverters installed across the Hawaiian Islands.  Enphase and HECO worked together to update the software settings on the microinverters while they remained connected to the grid under an expanded range of voltage levels and frequencies. These settings included Fault Ride Through (FRT) capabilities that will help stabilize the grid during short-term voltage or frequency fluctuations. In the future, these types of settings updates could happen on a regular basis; changing with the seasons, as electricity use patterns change or on a circuit-by-circuit basis, depending on the types of customers located on a particular distribution feeder.

In the Japanese power market the ongoing shortage of electricity resulting from the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident continues to present challenges for the electricity system and the country as a whole. Electricity costs have risen as a result of needing to import fossil fuels, and Japan is running trade deficits for the first time in decades. Japanese companies are responding by making substantial investments in developing energy management and energy efficiency technologies. In several smart city demonstration projects across the country, Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS), smart grid, and advanced battery technologies are taking center stage.

In 2012, Japan introduced a commercial- and utility-scale feed-in tariff to complement its existing residential excess power buy-back tariff. This has led to incredible growth in renewable energy, and solar power in particular. Today, Japan is introducing competition in its retail electricity market, which will be fully implemented in 2016, and has plans to deregulate its power generation sector by the end of the decade. This means that Japanese consumers will soon be able to choose their electricity provider, much like consumers in Australia and several U.S. states.

This presents business opportunities for new entrants into the Japanese electricity market, and also new opportunities for technological innovation as utilities seek ways to manage the grid and retail providers seek to differentiate themselves from their competitors. As my Australian colleagues are fond of saying, "Watch this space," it's going to be exciting.


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