Solar Farmers in Japan to Harvest Electricity with Crops

Solar Farmers in Japan to Harvest Electricity with Crops

Farmers in Japan are maximising use of farmland by harnessing solar energy not only for food but also electricity. Sounds like a pretty good idea but may have some negative effects on land use as certain crops like rice do not flourish in the shade. Thoughts?

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(Photo credits: Ryo Sugawara/Japan Organics Recycling Association (JORA))

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Tokyo wind and air pollution visualization

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Map screenshot from http://air.nullschool.net/map/co/current

Check out this cool interactive map of wind speeds in Tokyo (and its 23 wards), and the modeled spread of air pollutants associated with it here:

http://air.nullschool.net/map/co/current

This was coded by Cameron Beccario, who also happens to be the creator of earth.nullschool.net, a global weather visualizer. Pretty fascinating stuff, I must say!

Sushi breakfast at Tsukiji

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Photo courtesy of Kim

The one thing I appreciate about living in Japan is the availability and ease of eating fresh sushi. Back when I was in the US, sushi for me was usually considered a dinner affair, and commonly came with good ‘ole americanizations like the addition of cream cheese and mangoes, accompanied with names like “Dragon Roll” and “Caterpillar Roll”. While neither a fanatic nor a strict purist, I must admit I prefer the traditional style of sushi and since beginning my studies here in Japan, I have yet to pass up a chance to consume it.

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Photo courtesy of Kim

During our recent field trip to the Institute of Energy Economics Japan (IEEJ), it was suggested that we have a little GPES bonding session by eating a sushi breakfast at the Tsukiji Market. Good company and good food first thing in the morning? How could I refuse!

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Photo courtesy of Yue Chin

Off we went to the market at 6am (it takes about 1 hour from Komaba 1 campus). Initially, we had a difficult time deciding between the various restaurants, but in the end, settled for Itadori, a cozy sushi bar located somewhere in the inner folds of Tsukiji. There, we were served by a senior sushi chef and his apprentice. Everything was prepared fresh before us, and boy, was the food better than the ones at the canteen good! There were periods of comfortable silence when everyone was just enjoying their food, and I couldn’t help but feel despite the numerous hiccups in the program, how lucky I was to be in this wonderful city, learning with and from this group of wonderful people.

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After our meal, we wondered around a little (Fun fact: Tsukiji is in fact, not only a fish market but also a vegetable market! So when you visit, please make sure to explore around. You will be sure to find some delightful shops!) before leaving the market with satisfied tummies, ready to learn at our meeting with IEEJ. You can read more about this visit from Kim’s blogpost: IEEJ INSTITUTE OF ENERGY ECONOMICS VISIT JUNE 13, 2014.

Till next time,

Amelia

130th Life Science GPES Seminar

Growth Anisotropy in Plants: Scaling Up from Single Cell to Stem.

Dr. Tobias I. Baskin

University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Endless forms, most beautiful” – Charles Darwin

During the 130th Life Science Seminar, Dr. Baskin opined that ‘beautiful’ could be replaced by ‘functional’ – the myriad structures found in the plant kingdom are all results of millennia of fine-tuning so as to meet various requirements in functionality. A leaf is flat in order to absorb as much light as it can. A tendril extends almost two-dimensionally (i.e. a line) to grasp at supports. His research objectives are to understand why plants grow not isotropically, but anisotropically and the mechanisms by which plant cells allow this growth. In this manner, he uses a combination of biology and engineering in order to come up with theories about how plant cells deal with stress and strain. It was extremely enlightening; especially so with the question and answer session at the end, where students shot queries at him about both his research and his choice of career path which were answered openly and eloquently by Dr. Baskin.

Understanding plant biomechanics is all well and good, but throughout the talk I wondered about what the purpose of his research was. The answer? There isn’t one. His research can be said to be ‘basic research’. Instead of research that has a purpose such as understanding the mechanism of carbon uptake by the ocean in order to mitigate climate change, Dr. Baskin does investigative research into plant growth for the pure love and curiosity of it. Pure research furthers human knowledge without specific applications in mind but may one day be used as a foundation for progress. Applied research is useful, but without pure research contributing to the pool of knowledge, many new innovations (e.g. the discovery of X-rays for medical use) would not have existed.

The second part of the talk was actually given by one of our very own, Kim Schumacher. He used this opportunity to introduce GPES to other Todai students, staff and the guest speaker, giving them an insight into the programme and our student-led initiatives (thanks Kim!!). It is astounding how many people on our campus are clueless about the existence of this new programme and we hope that more students will be inspired to join such a pioneering venture by us actual students promoting our own programme. This was also an interactive session as we asked for advice and opinions from Dr. Baskin on how we can better create a more multi-disciplinary programme.

All in all, a really fruitful session. Thanks to Hamada-sensei for organising the seminar and Dr. Baskin for a fascinating talk.

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From left to right: Xuan Truong, Kim, Dr. Baskin, Yue Chin, Amelia

(Pictures ©2014 GPES Student Group)

IEEJ Institute of Energy Economics Visit June 13, 2014

Hello everyone,

Today I want to give a short recap of our group’s recent experiences at the Institute of Energy Economics Japan (IEEJ, for additional information please see http://eneken.ieej.or.jp/en/) located in Tokyo, Japan.

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First and foremost I would like to thank my “Energy Security” class teacher, Professor Nobuo Tanaka (http://www.pp.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/faculty/professors/NobuoTanaka.htm ; http://eneken.ieej.or.jp/3rd_IAEE_Asia/cv/CV_Nobuo_Tanaka.pdf) for making this visit possible and for enabling us to get an interesting insight into the world of energy and sustainability research in Japan.

Therefore I would also like to extend my thanks to the following IEEJ researchers, Momoko Aoshima, Hisahi Hoshi and Ayako Sugini, who were kind enough to free up some of their time and listening to our many questions with patience and answering them with great competence.

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The topics that were discussed included among others: Renewable energy security in Japan; Japan’s current energy mix and future energy generation; energy econometrics and modelling; biomass potential; smart grid investments and general grid management; etc.

In a nutshell, once can say after hearing the various IEEJ experts’ opinions is that Japan’s government will probably engage in a policy shift (http://www.meti.go.jp/english/press/2014/0617_01.html) in which reliance on nuclear power will be increased again in order to increase domestic energy supply and overall energy security. Maintaining the electric grid stable and prices low is also of utmost in importance and takes precedent over investments in renewable energy, at least in the short term.

To obtain further details on IEEJ’s findings and a good overview with regards to Japan’s energy policy, please have a look at http://eneken.ieej.or.jp/data/4700.pdf

The GPES Student Group in any way found this visit and subsequent Q&A session extremely insightful and informative.

Our deepest thanks and respect for the IEEJ and Professor Tanaka.

(Picture source: eneken.ieej.or.jp)

GPEAK/GPES Mount Fuji Tour May 31, 2014

Helly everone,

The University of Tokyo GPEAK (GSP & GPES) students recently participated together in a day trip to Mount Fuji, famous UNESCO world heritage site and most sacred of mountains in all of Japan.

It takes approximately 2 hours by bus from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji, and we were lucky enough to be blessed with nearly flawless weather, so that our view of the mountain (although technically a dormant volcano) was untainted for most of the day.

With is majestic 3776m of height, Mt. Fuji dominates large parts of the landscapes of central Japan and can be seen from faraway  locations such as Tokyo and even from Nagoya (on a clear day).

Mount Fuji can be climbed by tourists and hikers, however only during the summer months because throughout the rest of the year the mountain is ususally covered by snow and thus attempting to climb to the top would be too dangerous.  There are then stations at Mt. Fuji which denominate the respective height for potential climbers, so that they stay informed how many more meters they still need to climb to reach the top.

Our group drove by bus to the 5th station, which is the last that can be accessed by car or bus. This station has many shops and restaurants and offers a fairly decent of view of the mountain.

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Lunch concluded the first of half of the trip’s program.

The second part consisted of a trip to a nearby artisanal and folklore village called “Saiko Iyashino-sato Nenba”, where people can experience traditional Japanese arts & crafts, such as woodcarving, glass-making or silk-weaving.

We as GPES students chose a bit more unconventional route and decided to indulge in the lost art of Edo period re-enactment by putting on samurai battle gear or kimonos.

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This was a lot of fun and was actually very interesting, since it allowed us to understand to hardship of combat first-hand, most notable the heavy armor and limited agility.

We engaged in fearsome fights with local ninjas and came out triumphant.

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So all in all, this was an extremely fun experience thanks to the setting, perfect weatherand the awesome people of the GPEAK programs.

Best,

Kim

Photosynthesis and its key role as a sustainable energy supply

Global warming is a complex problem which is related to manyy other environmental issues. One of the most important of these issues is the significance of energy consumption to human existence.

Energy consumption is the source of much environmental degradation, yet we are dependent on it, especially now since the populations in emerging countries are becoming more prosperous and affluent, thus there is an even higher demand for energy.

People cannot have both an increase fossil fuel use and a habitable planet at the same time. Fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas are our main sources of energy, producing the vast majority of fuel, electricity, and heat used by people across the world. Yet, fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest source of global warming pollution.

They release huge quantities of green house gases to the atmosphere. To address it, we must accelerate development of clean energy, improve energy efficiency and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We must also find new ways to reducegreenhouse gases.

The development of renewable energy such solar energy, wind power, hydropower, geothermal energy, biofuel and biomass are important to be used to deal with these problems.

As a biologist, I think biofuel and biomass could be commercially important in the future. Related to the photosynthesis studies, I believe that genetic engineering can be used to create a high biomass-producing plant to increase crop yields of food, fiber, wood, and fuel, as well as to make better environmental condition in the future.

Herewith I enclose my presentation in Masuda-Sensei Class entitled Photosynthesis and its key role as a sustainable future energy supply.

Photosynthesis and its key role as a future

(Picture source: shutterstock.com)