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CEC Joins California Delegation for Smart Energy Week in Japan

By CEC Commissioner Patty Monahan

Did you know California is now the world's fourth-largest economy? Recently I traveled to the world's third-largest economy — Japan — for the World Smart Energy Week gathering and to learn what "Number Three" is doing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and promote clean energy and transportation.

I joined California Energy Commission (CEC) Chair David Hochschild as part of a delegation led by Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) Director Dee Dee Myers, along with more than 100 California business executives and senior government officials.

Japan is the state's top source of foreign direct investment, so we have deep economic ties in addition to a shared commitment to clean energy and addressing the challenge of climate change. My goals as a CEC commissioner included forging partnerships with Japan, collaborating on clean energy and offshore wind development, and — of course — talking shop about clean transportation.

March 13, 2023: Trip Tees Off in Tokyo

This weeklong trip had many highlights, but one of the earliest was meeting Governor Yuriko Koike in Tokyo. It was a thrilling start, meeting the first woman elected as Tokyo's governor on a trip led by two trailblazing California women: Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis, the first female elected to her position, and Director Myers, the first female presidential press secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Meeting the Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike.

I also participated in discussion panels at the California Climate Summit. Other delegates and I spoke and exchanged ideas about California and Japan's government policies on decarbonization, including the transition to carbon neutrality, renewable energy, and clean hydrogen, decarbonization of ports and other critical infrastructure, and opportunities for climate solutions on agricultural lands. 

CEC Commissioner Patty Monahan speaking at the California Climate Summit.

We capped the day with a welcome reception at the U.S. Embassy by Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, who is insightful, gracious, and wickedly funny. We learned so much about Japanese protocol and approaches to climate change on this first day, and we still had four more full days to go!

March 14, 2023: A New Partnership is Forged

Everyone knows the name Panasonic, which is synonymous with cool consumer products. What may surprise you is that Panasonic also provides batteries to Tesla. We were excited to see the company's Future District during a tour and learn about their surprising and fun innovations and green initiatives. The Future District isn't usually open to the public, so it was a rare opportunity to see this showcase of their latest technology.

We also learned about Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, a purpose-built smart-city project created by Panasonic and partner companies to explore technologies designed to reduce the environmental impact of cities. As these technologies are readied for prime time, and the production of these technologies scales up, production costs and sales prices should fall, making it easier for everyone to go green.

Tuesday marked the start of a formal collaboration between California and Japan on clean energy. Together with the Lieutenant Governor, Director Myers, California Air Resources Board Chair Liane Randolph, and California State Transportation Agency Director Toks Omishakin, I took part in the signing of an agreement on behalf of the CEC with Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism.

The letter of intent outlines areas where California and Japan will commit to cooperation, information-sharing, and the discussion of best practices to support the development of green shipping corridors, expand offshore wind and increase the decarbonization of ports. What a win for maritime zero-emission transport and renewable energy generation! These new areas of cooperation are part of our broader engagement among the United States, Japan, and other international partners.

Signatories and witnesses for the letter of intent between California and Japan.

March 15, 2023: Smart Energy Week Begins

This day marked the opening of the Smart Energy Week Exhibition and Conference: the world's largest smart energy show, which I attended. There were nine large exhibition halls, and I'd need several days to see all the exhibits, including batteries, photovoltaic power, wind and hydrogen, and fuel cells. Chair David Hochschild and other agency leads presented the California clean energy story on the main stage. It also signaled the time to say goodbye to Tokyo to take a train southwest to Osaka and Toyota City.

In the afternoon, I visited the Fujimi Waste-to-Energy Plant. One of the most amazing things about Japan is that there is no trash on the streets, even though there are no public trash cans! People carry their own trash home to dispose of properly; residents sort their recyclables, and what's left is sent to a local incinerator like the Fujimi plant. The plant can process nearly 300 tons per day of waste, with a generating capacity of 9.7 megawatts. I was impressed by the cleanliness and lack of smells inside and outside the plant.

March 16, 2023: Touring Toyota City

Finally, a chance to talk about my favorite subject — zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs)! I couldn't wait to see what was in store at Toyota City. Toyota is known for its commitment to fuel-cell electric vehicles fueled by hydrogen. California is a global leader in building hydrogen stations, and we have more fuel-cell passenger vehicles on the road than Japan. Still, fuel-cell sales are low compared with battery-electric vehicles.

I was curious to learn more about how we could collaborate with Toyota and Japan to accelerate the market for ZEVs. There was so much to learn from touring the headquarters and manufacturing operations and seeing that Toyota is now producing many more electric vehicles, in addition to producing 20 Mirai fuel cell vehicles per day!

Talking in person with executives about fuel cell strategy and the importance of bringing down hydrogen costs was very helpful. California's Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems (ARCHES) aims to do just that, intending to help drive up the production of clean hydrogen and drive down prices. We're also exploring the role of hydrogen as part of how we get to a carbon-neutral economy by 2045, which you can read about in the 2022 Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) Update.

Beyond learning about Japanese production, the trip offered Toyota and other Japanese automakers the opportunity to discuss California's auto regulations and know what Californians want to drive. Americans have adopted battery-electric vehicles more quickly than fuel cell vehicles for light-duty, but hydrogen is starting to make strides here in the heavy-duty space.

This trip educated us about the breadth of Japan's commitments to hydrogen for various purposes, including generating power and fueling heavy-duty vehicles. In turn, we hope California can share its experience with hydrogen that has a clean life cycle.

Keeping trade secrets under wraps, cameras weren't allowed on the factory floor. But you'll soon see Toyota's automotive innovations in a dealer showroom near you.

Friday, March 17, 2023: Osaka's Hydrogen Harbor

Today we had a master class in hydrogen fuel, visiting Iwatani, the hydrogen fuel producer in partnership with Toyota. Japan's largest hydrogen production facility is the HydroEdge facility, owned and operated by Iwatani in Osaka. It was fascinating to tour the facility and see how hydrogen is produced, stored, and transported.

The facility produces hydrogen from natural gas but is also invested in other hydrogen production processes, including using electrolyzers paired with renewable energy to make "green" hydrogen and using coal paired eventually with carbon capture and storage to produce "blue" hydrogen. Iwatani is investing in hydrogen production not just in Japan, but all over the world, including Australia. The fact that hydrogen can be low or high carbon, depending on how it's made, highlights the importance of the partnership between California and Japan to move to a clean hydrogen future, as well as the importance of instituting global tracking processes to make sure hydrogen is truly clean.

At the Port of Kobe, we took a tour on a 125-foot hydrogen-fueled boat and listened to a briefing on the port's hydrogen facilities as one of our last events before returning home. Transitioning our trains, ships, and ports from fossil fuels to clean sources of hydrogen could play a key role in replacing diesel fuels for heavy-duty use and have an enormous impact on the world's GHG emissions.

An Overseas Success

This trip to Japan gave delegations from both countries a myriad of opportunities to learn from each other's experiences, ask questions specific to each of their industries, and start to process how they might benefit from the examples they'd seen.

In addition to agreements I participated in, California announced even more big news from the trip, including:

  • A $1.4 billion contract between the California company Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR) and Japan's Fuji Electric for the delivery of geothermal power facilities in Imperial County, California. CTR expects to produce 150,000 metric tons of battery-grade lithium to support global demand for electric vehicles and energy storage systems while decarbonizing lithium production by 2 million metric tons. 

  • An agreement between California-based Principle Power and Tokyo Gas to supply technology and engineering to the Fukushima Floating Offshore Wind Project, which will feature two modern 15-MW wind turbines on Principle Power's WindFloat® foundations. 

  • A new collaboration between California's Universal Hydrogen, Sojitz Corporation, and Mitsubishi HC Capital Inc. to enable the use of hydrogen-powered aircraft by Japanese airlines. 

It was a whirlwind trip that I would never forget. My thanks to our Japanese hosts for their generosity and knowledge and to both Lieutenant Governor Kounalakis and Director Myers for their leadership and grace during the busy week.

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