The impact of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami has been devastating, with humanitarian needs still not fully met.
Besides the human toll, the impact of the disaster on the private sector has also been huge. Damaged factories, stockpiles destroyed, supply chains disrupted, and production curtailed due to power cuts. This are familiar scenarios that have been reported widely in the mass media.
But how has the private sector actually responded? The desire of the business sector to get back on its feet has been very strong – both within the sector itself, and also with the support incentives being provided by local and national governments and financial institutions.
What is further interesting is how the disaster has provided an opportunity for innovative solutions and technologies to be developed and implemented not only as a disaster preparedness issue, but also as a means to reduce resource consumption, especially energy-related (electricity, gas, water etc.).
Below is a compilation of some of the innovative solutions being developed by the private sector as a direct result of the 3/11 disaster:
1. Sharp Corp. and Shin-Kobe Electric Machinery Co. produced a disaster-relief photovoltaic (PV) system and shipped their first cargo of the products to earthquake and tsunami disaster-stricken areas on March 31, 2011. This product is a stand-alone PV system combining Sharp solar cells with Shin-Kobe storage batteries and an alternating current (AC) power strip. With the electricity generated by the system, the people suffering in the areas can charge their cell phones, watch TV programs, and light up light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.
2. Panasonic Corporation, a leading Japanese electronics manufacturer, announced on March 29, 2011, that it would donate one unit of its Life Innovation Container for victims of the powerful earthquake that hit the northeastern part of Japan on March 11, 2011. The Life Innovation Container — a transportable unit equipped with solar modules, power storage batteries, and a power control unit — was originally developed to supply electric power to areas with no electricity in Africa and other developing nations. It will be installed to support a local disaster task force at the Bay Side Arena in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, by providing power for communication facilities and equipment in the quake-hit area.
3. Three major Japanese manufacturers, Hitachi, Ltd., Mitsubishi ElectricCorp., and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., have reached a basic agreement on the consolidation of their hydroelectric systems businesses, the companies announced on March 30, 2011. In the coming years, hydroelectric power generation is expected to attract continuous demand as a clean renewable energy contributing toward the realization of a low-carbon society. The three companies reached a common recognition that the most effective means to strengthen and expand related business would be to pool their respective operating resources and engage jointly in hydroelectric power generation system operations.
4. About 20 organizations, including the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), a non-profit organization that conducts research and provides recommendations on energy policies, launched a disaster relief project utilizing natural energy on April 4, 2011. The project involves providing electricity by installing solar panels in evacuation centers, public facilities and temporary housing. At the same time, it involves providing hot water by installing solar water heaters and providing a bathing facility service that uses wood boilers, particularly in areas where infrastructure is underdeveloped.
5. U’s Corp., a used cooking oil recycling company in Japan, delivered relief supplies from Taiwan on April 2, 2011 by a Vegetable Diesel Fuel (VDF)-driven truck to Kesennuma City Hospital in the area struck by the disaster on March 11, 2011. The company carried out this project as part of its “Tokyo Oil Field Project 2017,” cooperating with Side By Side International, a non-profitable organization, which provides relief supplies and mental support to people in difficult situations including poverty and natural disasters.
6. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. announced on March 17, 2011, that it will donate i-MiEV electric vehicles and Triton four-wheel-drive pickup trucks for use in disaster relief operations in areas afflicted by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The i-MiEV and Triton were selected as disaster relief vehicles to be used in the afflicted areas where gasoline supply is limited. The selection was based on the response to growing demand for use of electric vehicles that do not require the construction of special facilities, simple needing an electricity supply, and for vehicles with high power on rough roads and good carrying capacity. The company’s first shipment of 30 i-MiEVs was sent on March 18, and the number of disaster relief vehicles will be increased to meet the needs of afflicted areas in the future.
There are many such examples (the six examples above were collected by Japan for Sustainability, an NPO based in Tokyo).