Fukushima's Major Initiative Become a Renewable Energy Pioneer
Fukushima Prefecture has set the "Renewable Energy Promotion Vision 2021", an initiative aimed at realizing the Revitalization Principal of "Creating a safe, secure, and sustainably developable society independent on nuclear power", and is promoting to reach the goal by 2030.
Fukushima Prefecture's new comprehensive plan (October 2021), which inherited the basic principal of its 2011 Revitalization Vision, also focuses on the goal of "Become a Renewable Energy Pioneer" in addition to "Shift to an eco-friendly low-carbon, recycling-oriented society" and "Revitalization of Fukushima (regional development)".
In line with these initiatives, a joint empirical research project on the development of a fully off-grid solar carport equipped with energy storage batteries has been launched by Aizu Computer Science Laboratories, Inc., Banpu Japan k.k., and the University of Aizu.
In this project, the University of Aizu has been responsible for the development of AI chips.
We asked Professor BEN ABDALLAH Abderazek, who was involved in the development of the AI chips, about the significance of the joint empirical research.
"Significant increases in energy consumption and emission of greenhouse gases have made energy conservation a crucial issue in today's sustainable energy development. The issue is especially critical in Japan due to its large population and lack of large natural resources. Thus, the shift from oil and natural gas to renewable energy (renewables) is in an urgent need especially since the Great East Japan Earthquake. To this end, a smart energy-management platform to meet such urgent needs in the power grid is needed.
Particularly, electric vehicles (hereinafter EVs) have been acknowledged as a key element of future low-carbon transportation. This technology can help in boosting the government's policy to reduce carbon emissions to meet Paris Agreement commitments. In the transportation system, EVs, in combination with decarbonization of electricity is a key means to deliver carbon reductions in the personal transport sector. Owner of EVs can earn additional income if they want through an energy trading platform (i.e., the new technology used in off-grid energy storage solar carports).
Off-Grid Energy Storage Solar Carport
Joint Empirical Research Based on the Three-way Cooperation
What exactly is an "off-grid energy storage solar carport", and what exactly is done in the joint empirical research?
From each recorded data of the blockchain, it is possible to prove the origin of the power used, and when and how much power charged to the EV vehicle was generated. The solar carport with traceability management using chip-based AI and blockchain is the world's first initiative of this kind.
Division of Roles in the Joint Empirical Research
- Aizu Computer Science Laboratories, Inc., which specializes in the utilization of AI technology, is in charge of the development of AI chip-equipped storage batteries and blockchain management infrastructure.
- Banpu Japan K.K., which specializes in providing smart solutions using clean energy, is in charge of the design and development of solar carports.
- The University of Aizu, which specializes in computer science and engineering, is in charge of the development of special AI chips to control the charging and discharging of storage batteries.
According to Professor BEN ABDALLAH, "our technology is about a new platform for a smart energy management that combines the advantages of software (i.e., blockchain) and hardware (i.e., Ai chip) in terms of high speed and low power. EVs then intelligently and autonomously charge or discharge their batteries. Therefore, the virtual power platform can efficiently manage all the distributed EV batteries as a huge smart power-storage facility. EV batteries are able to store the extra electricity produced by renewable energy resources, such as solar installations in our case. This will bring about greater flexibility and scalability to the power grid and the green vehicle (eco-friendly vehicle) networks."
This joint empirical research made possible through industry-academia collaboration aims to commercialize the solar carports after about two years of experimental research.
Professor BEN ABDALLAH said, "working with industry as a researcher and educator gives me more confidence and skills to develop other technology that have a clear benefit to the society." and he smiled.
Fully off-grid solar carports that do not rely on system power at all are expected to be used as a mechanism for supplying and charging renewable energy at each station of electric mobility including micro-mobility such as EVs and electric kickboards, which are projected to spread rapidly in the future in Aizuwakamatsu City, which has been promoting smart cities, and other municipalities.
The University of Aizu' Roles and Missions
"AI chip that is a basis of the Off-Grid Energy Storage Solar Carport is a new technology which was patented in 2021. So far, we have received several requests from outside the university for joint research. I hope this technology can contribute to the development of energy industry in this area, Japan, and the whole world," says Professor Ben ABDALLAH.
The greatest benefit of the joint empirical research project is the "commercialization of new electric power" by supplying and charging renewable energy (natural energy) in line with the spread of EVs, without relying on the grid. To this end, we are currently working with industrial partners to apply for new patents.
Professor BEN ABDALLAH added, "We have three UoA researchers (one Doctor and two Doctor candidate) engaged in this project. We meet once a month with our industrial collaborators here at our laboratory and sometimes online to discuss the progress of the project.
This joint empirical research is not only a development, but also a hybrid of research and development. As such, from the perspectives of education, we will strive to make an environment where students can propose their new idea freely whenever it comes to mind.
As such, the University of Aizu is a rare university where students can realize what they want to do through communication with faculty members and other students. It can be said that is one of the benefits to study at the University of Aizu.
In April 2021, solar carports equipped with an operation room was built at the university's parking lot in cooperation among three parties. From the next month, we have used the facility to record data and use them in the research. Currently, we are developing a new technology and we will also use the same platform to perform more experiments.
At online meetings for two years, we consulted and asked for help. I really appreciate Japanese people who are involved in the project. Thanks to the Japanese people's attitude to communicate politely and sincerely, we were able to focus on our research activities. These strengths are significantly beneficial, for our students as well.
We also asked Professor ISHIBASHI from the University of Aizu University-Business Innovation Center (UBIC) about the future development of the joint empirical research project. He said, "The UBIC was established in 1995 and is equipped with R&D laboratories and booth-type offices to promote industry-academia-government collaboration, joint research, and commissioned research, etc.
In this joint empirical research, I helped create a mechanism for innovation through collaboration between the University of Aizu and companies.
In the future, we would like to develop initiatives for practical application in consultation with many private companies at AOI (Aizu Open Innovation) meetings, which are based on the needs of companies."
With an eye on the not-so-distant future of a society for smart e-mobility centered around renewable energy, the industry-academia collaboration project will continue to evolve in this region of Aizu.
BEN ABDALLAH Abderazek
Head of the Computer Engineering Department, School of Computer Science and Engineering. Professor.
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- BEN ABDALLAH Abderazek | Faculty Roster
Professor, Reconstruction Assistance Center, Industry-Academia Innovation Center.
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- ISHIBASHI Shiro | Faculty Roster