On March 11, 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook offshore North Eastern Japan and triggered a massive tsunami. More than 15,000 people lost their lives and 300,000 people still remain displaced even 10 months after the disaster. Affected communities are still struggling to restore normal life and people are desperate to get back the jobs that were washed away in the blink of an eye.
Energy has emerged as one the most critical issues for recovery. The weather in North Eastern part of Japan is harsh and it snows a lot in winter. Many regions are rural and remote. Right after the disaster many affected areas became energy isolated; people lost access to electricity, natural gas and/or gasoline under the freezing weather. Immediate assistance to provide electricity and heat was critical for survival of the victims. As relief activities intensified, many communities restored lifelines. However, it is also becoming obvious that some seriously impacted areas will be left without grid connection for some more time, if not for good.
Tohoku (the region hit by the disaster) Unity and Warmth Project has been launched to improve access to energy in disaster-hit communities in a sustainable way. Initiated by The Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), a Tokyo-based NGO that studies measures to promote renewable energy, the project focuses on providing electricity and heat using renewable energy. It also aims to offer much needed jobs to local people through implementation and installation of the projects.
“We would like to provide local, independent power such as solar and biomass in disaster-hit areas where help is difficult to reach. Independent renewable energy can also create local jobs. In the long-run, it can replace nuclear and fossil energy,” says Tetsunari Ida, Director of ISEP.
Since April 2011, the project has been installing small-scale solar and biomass energy systems such as solar panels, solar water heaters, solar street lights and biomass boilers at almost 200 locations throughout affected regions.