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Toyota Launches Eco Sensitive Smart Village

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On: Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 9:03AM | By: Chris Weiss

Toyota Launches Eco Sensitive Smart Village

Last Thursday, Toyota took a lead in demonstrating how green vehicles and renewable energy can work together to cut environmental impact. The company launched a tiny 'smart' village in Rokkasho, Japan to test and demonstrate how consumers can use renewable energy and green vehicles toward cutting their carbon footprint.

One of the biggest knocks against hybrids and electric vehicles is that electricity still runs largely on fossil fuels. While the end user feels better about pumping electricity and not gas into his car, that electricity is still polluting the environment. In other words, EVs and hybrids are simply masking the problem not solving it. That argument seems to get a whole lot of use by status-quo lovers that want to look more forward-thinking and informed than they really are. As if the notion never occurred to anyone else.

However, it's actually a legitimate point. A study done by Institute For Environmental Lifecycle Assessment in 2001 showed that CO2 emissions for carbon and electric vehicles were surprisingly close over the lifetime of those vehicles. Gas vehicles were still the highest, but electric vehicles that were powered by coal-sourced electricity were quite close behind.

Of course, ask 10 different organizations or experts and you'll get 10 different calculations and analyses. The debate is heating up, and it will likely rage on for years to come. An interesting blog post on Chron.com earlier this year showed one expert calculating EVs at 1/5 the emissions of gasoline vehicles and one expert calculating that an electrical equivalent burns three times as much fossil fuels as a gasoline car. As much as we like to think about numbers as the most primitive, indisputable forms of facts, they can be infinitely debated, finessed and outright manipulated to support or deny an argument.

As the experts pontificate, the uninformed way for us laypersons to deal with the problem is to jump aboard one side or the other, either denouncing EVs and hybrids as "green hype" or pretending they're the perfect solution to a pristine future. A better solution is to realize there is a greater problem at work: reliance on dirty, non-renewable fossil fuels for our energy industry. It's not as though this issue isn't recognized, and it's pretty clear that renewable energy sources are gaining clout--at least on a theoretical level. As the infrastructure adapts more renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and hybrids will start to realize their green potential.

Toyota's village is not necessarily going to be the end-all solution, but it is a clear step in the direction for a "future low-carbon society," as described by Toyota. The mini-village consists of six houses, each with a different energy management system and a metering system. There are eight Toyota Prius plug-in hybrids sitting in the driveways around the village, which connect to integrated charging stations. The village uses an independent smart grid with electricity derived solely from renewable energy resources. Energy will be provided by a combination of suppliers: Japan Wind Development Company will supply wind power for the project, and Hitachi will provide power from a 100-kW solar facility. Panasonic is also an energy partner in the project.

Part experiment and part demonstration, the companies will work to fine-tune strategies for optimizing the supply and demand of electricity for home use and Prius charging. Integral to this goal is the Toyota Smart Center, which controls energy electricity storage and consumption throughout the village. The project, which will run until July 2012, will demonstrate how homeowners can optimize their usage strategies and share power with neighbors toward minimizing impact.

The companies will also adjust the grid to simulate different global consumption scenarios, such as those likely to be encountered in Europe vs. those in developing nations.


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