Panasonic's Smart City Features Electric Cars and Battery Bikes

By · November 14, 2013

Fujisawa SST

Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town as it will look when finished in 2018. (Panasonic graphic)

You had to use your imagination, because the city of the future in Fukisawa, Japan is only about half built. Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST), with many partners but spearheaded by Panasonic, will shortly sell its first units, promising a deep green lifestyle that includes both electric cars and plug-in bicycles and scooters with swappable batteries.

Fujisawa is a prosperous seaside Tokyo suburb about an hour from the capital by the ubiquitous commuter rail. The new town has ambitious targets including an overall 70 percent CO2 reduction from 1990 levels for comparable housing, and virtual zero emissions from the detached houses (600 are to be built, along with 400 apartments) through a combination of solar panels on every home and storage batteries to keep things humming at night. The plan is for 30 percent of the town’s energy to be generated renewably.

Moving in Next March

Built on the site of a former Panasonic television factory, the new town is taking shape, with about 50 units in various states of completion. It will have its first new owners next March, and 3,000 residents by the time it is fully built out in 2018. According to Nobuku Asakai, a senior manager at Fukisawa partner Accenture, these new towns are the wave of the future for Japan.

“There is a rising demand for energy,” she said, “and although nuclear plants were providing a third of our energy, they are mostly shut down now in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Carbon dioxide reduction is a hot topic now, and Japan is moving quickly into the new energy economy.”

Fujisawa SST

The first houses are nearly ready at Fujisawa. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Japanese housing is expensive, and can cost $500,000 or more in that area without any eco-features. Hiroyuki “Hank” Morita, Panasonic’s SST project leader, declined to price the units, other than to acknowledge they will be moderately more expensive than traditional housing—but cheaper overall because of reduced operating expenses. The homes are small by American standards, large for Japan.

An Exercise in Sustainable Living

The country needs more projects like Fujisawa, because although the population is declining, Japan has been slow to adopt electric cars and is very far from meeting its Kyoto emission reduction goals. Morita said the town will be a showplace of green technology, including solar (and passive solar design) plus storage batteries for every unit, home energy management systems, high-performance windows and insulation, and LED lighting throughout. And mobility is a big priority.

Fujisawa battery charging

Fujisawa SST will offer both ubiquitous EV charging and this form of battery swapping for electric bikes and scooters. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Not only will residents be encouraged to drive electric cars, but charging will be ubiquitous and EV-based rental and sharing programs will be available. Also planned are solar-powered battery stations for swappable electric scooter and bicycles that will avoid “concerns about batteries going flat at awkward times.” According to Asakai, “Non-driving Fujisawa residents will become more active, and drivers will become more eco-friendly.”

Low-Impact Living

Los Angeles-based actor and environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. was part of the visiting delegation, and is building his own California eco-house. Begley has long used similar technology—charging his 115,000-mile Toyota RAV4 electric from rooftop solar (with a little assist from a connected exercise bike). His new home in Studio City, with a 10-kilowatt Panasonic solar array, will be zero net carbon. If funding his eco-home hadn’t cost so much, he’d probably be shopping for a Tesla Model S, but is instead kicking the tires on a new Tesla-powered RAV4 or a Nissan LEAF.

Fujisawa SST

Ed Begley, Jr. likes what he sees at Fujisawa. (Jim Motavalli photo)

“I was impressed by the size of the community,” Begley said. “I’ve never seen an eco-friendly housing complex that large before. It offers the kind of modern, low-impact living that I think people will embrace.”

Achieving Net Zero at the Smart House

The Japanese have a developing passion for closed-loop zero emission housing, and the day before our visiting delegation went to Fujisawa we visited Tokyo’s Panasonic Smart House, which also achieves zero CO2 emissions through a combination of five-kilowatt solar panels, a 4.65-kilowatt-hour storage battery, a fuel cell (not working during our visit) and energy- and water-saving appliances. The house uses high-efficiency insulation made from recycled TV and computer monitors.

Panasonic Smart House

Panasonic's Smart House has a Prius Plug-In Hybrid in the garage. (Jim Motavalli photo)

In the garage of the Smart House was a Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, with Panasonic’s own charging station operating on the home’s own electricity generation. When the technology permits, the car will balance the home’s load by putting power back into the grid. An electric bicycle was also part of the package.

The Smart House has a green roof dense with plants and on a recent visit, a vivid orange-breasted hummingbird sipped nectar, placing its vote for green development in the heart of one of the world’s most densely packed mega-cities.

Here's a look at the Fujisawa SST on video:

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.