The earth’s climate has undergone a tremendous transformation over the past several years. Evidence of this can be found in unseasonable temperatures, alarmingly frequent typhoons and hurricanes, and flooding from torrential rains. According to an eye-opening report released on October 8, 2018 by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, failure to keep the increase in the average global temperature to 1.5°C over the next 12 years could result in irreparable damage to the earth’s ecosystem. The risks associated with climate change are very real, and the awareness of these risks has heightened dramatically in a very short time. Concrete measures are needed and tangible progress must be achieved in the short term.

Sliding Down the Environmental Slippery Slope
― The linear economic model has generated significant environmental impact which could become unrecoverable if measures are not taken

The advent of the Second Industrial Revolution in the 1870s brought prodigious technological innovation that sparked the transition from the Malthusian economy—during which economic growth was directly coupled to population—to the birth of mass production and the modern linear economic model. Increased efficiency and productivity, along with unprecedented population growth, led to a cycle in which massive amounts of resources were utilized to manufacture products, which were then consumed and disposed of. While it has greatly enhanced individual incomes and the quality of life, the linear economic model has triggered the monumental degradation of the environment.

The ‘take, make, and dispose’ paradigm has contributed to increased volumes of CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other such gases in the earth’s atmosphere. This raises the intensity of the greenhouse effect—the earth’s natural means of warming itself—thus pushing the average global temperature upward and causing disruption to traditional weather patterns. Extended heat waves, excessive rain, and large, violent storms have become increasingly common.

Amidst the threat of continued environmental degradation, proactive measures are being undertaken to preserve the environment. There’s a town in Japan that is attracting attention in this regard. Shimokawa is located in Hokkaido, about 200 kilometers from the northernmost tip of the island. A bucolic burg best known as the hometown of world-class ski jumper Noriaki Kasai, Shimokawa has a population of only about 3,400 and a rapid aging rate, with 39% of its residents over the age of 65. Another unique characteristic of the town is that about 90% of its land is occupied by forest. It is managing to take advantage of this characteristic by promoting forest-based industry and supplying energy using forest biomass toward becoming a recycling society.

The risks associated with climate change are very real, and the awareness of these risks has heightened dramatically in a very short time.

Without proper management, forests are vulnerable to damage due to the occurrence of natural disasters. Heavy rain and earthquakes can spark deadly landslides. When forests are damaged by natural disasters or droughts due to heat waves, it can impact the rate of CO2 capture and result in carbon returning to the atmosphere. This prevents infrared radiation from the surface of the earth from escaping to space and contributes to global warming.

Shimokawa has devised and implemented a comprehensive forest management scheme that encompasses planting, afforestation, harvesting, and complete use of wood—its key resource—with no waste. The wood is processed into products such as lumber, byproducts including sawdust, and high value-added products like essential oils, with the remainder becoming wood chips to fuel the biomass boilers. A raw material manufacturing facility to produce biomass wood chips has been established.

The biomass boilers in Shimokawa supply heat to locations such as public hot springs, nurseries, and elderly care facilities, and the town has achieved a self-sufficiency rate of approximately 70% for heat supply volume for public facilities, and approximately 50% when including use in wood drying at private wood factories.

However, issues remain to be resolved. The technology to support the wood biomass heat supply framework does not yet exist in Japan. Despite this, Shimokawa has been a pioneer in introducing wood biomass heat supply facilities, and this has naturally led to numerous problems being revealed. If wood, a finite resource, is going to be used as fuel for forest biomass heat supply, these facilities must be integrated and efficiently operated.

Turning Up the Heat in the Battle Against Climate Change
― Yokogawa applies its expertise in measurement, control, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to the resolution of the world’s most dire situation

Yokogawa’s long-term involvement in Japan’s world-leading manufacturing industry has enabled it to collect valuable experience in efficiency and energy conservation. And though renewable energy-related technology is still relatively in its nascency, Yokogawa adroitly circumvents this issue thanks to its ability to skillfully integrate its measurement, control, and IoT technologies.

The town of Shimokawa has enlisted the aid of Yokogawa in the development of a forest biomass heat supply system framework. They need to bolster the efficiency of the small-scale, dispersed biomass heat supply operations in Shimokawa, and furnish a stable, sufficient supply of heat. Shimokawa currently operates a total of 11 biomass heat supply boilers, and they plan to take the knowledge accumulated and eventually apply it to similar installations around the country

Ichinohashi Bio-Village, a small district in Shimokawa with a population of about 100, an alarmingly high aging rate, and the need for smart solutions to improve the quality of life, is benefitting from the collaborative undertaking. To manage the distinct elements of the biomass heat supply system established there, Yokogawa employs its e-RT3 edge controller, which collects and processes information from all parts of the system. This, in turn, makes possible real-time remote monitoring using Fast/Tools, the easy-to-use, highly scalable supervisory control and data acquisition system.

Throughout the year, the temperature in Shimokawa swings between -30°C and +30°C. This reality, along with the fact that there are, in some instances, considerable distances between the supply facilities and those receiving the heat, could result in overcompensation in the form of excessive supply. By forecasting heat demand based on past heat demand data and weather information, and combined with Yokogawa’s control technology, more efficient operation becomes possible.

The finite nature of biomass fuel requires that the supply-demand balance is maintained. In the near future, Yokogawa’s Community Energy Management System (CEMS), which incorporates the e-RT3 and Fast/Tools, will facilitate forecasting of the weather and the anticipated demand for heat at Ichinohashi Bio-Village on a particular day, formulation of an operational plan, and analysis of the results for reflection in future operation.

“Yokogawa provides solutions that improve the stability, efficiency, and safety of operations at industrial plants and other infrastructure facilities by… speeding up processes, reducing workloads, and saving energy.”
Takashi Nishijima (President and CEO, Yokogawa)

The ability to apply the resulting data to modeling will facilitate the utilization of an analytical algorithm to optimize the forecasting function to serve as a complement to the feedback control method. This will contribute significantly to the successful management of the supply-demand balance.

The functions accomplished by the CEMS introduced in Shimokawa are limited to annual data visualization and gathering; nevertheless, the test has provided a wealth of valuable information. The management of operational data will support facility management by helping to identify specific areas in need of refurbishment. The data can also be useful in making investment determinations.

Shimokawa Town official Website (Link to an external website)

Yokogawa’s three sustainability goals for the year 2050, announced in August 2017, are to achieve net-zero emissions and halt climate change; transition to a circular economy; and ensure well-being for all. Said Yokogawa President and CEO Takashi Nishijima, “Yokogawa provides solutions that improve the stability, efficiency, and safety of operations at industrial plants and other infrastructure facilities by… speeding up processes, reducing workloads, and saving energy.”

Yokogawa will continue to co-innovate with customers in the development of revolutionary new models such as this with the objectives of creating sustainable value and, ultimately, the realization of its longer-term sustainability targets.

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