Green Homes On The Horizon In Tokyo
A weathered wood facade, a roof with solar panels and water-absorbent plants, a cedar interior that warms the senses -- it's all part of an eco-friendly house built in the middle of a huge metropolis, while staying rooted in the forest.
"As much as possible, I used local materials, products of Japan, and also materials in their natural state," said Architect Sachiko Zenyouji.
Zenyouji, a self-described eco-architect, designed the home for a woman with severe allergies and wanted to live in a place free of artificial glues and paints.
"When I go outside, allergens give me hay fever or make me sneeze. But when I'm inside this house, no problem," said Takae Kita, homeowner.
While the features of some of these types of homes are similar to their New York counterparts, what's different and, perhaps, revolutionary is the way some are powered.
At this particular house, located just outside the city center, most of the energy is generated not at a power plant, but in the backyard, in a fuel cell unit called Enefarm.
"When I see that I am not buying electricity, that makes me happy," said Enefarm customer Shunsuke Ugajin.
The machine, provided by Tokyo Gas, extracts hydrogen from natural gas and uses it to create electricity. The excess heat usually lost at a power plant is captured to make hot water.
So far, more than 800 families are using Enefarms. Although you have to sign a 10-year lease at about $1,000 a year, the systems reduce yearly energy bills by hundreds of dollars and release 45 percent less carbon dioxide than a typical energy generation plant.
Every day, you can look and find out what your carbon footprint is which can be seen graphically on the thermostat, which estimates in one month the reduced energy consumption is the equivalent of planting four trees.
Tokyo is also looking at some rather experimental ways of generating electricity. In Tokyo's version of Times Square, you can power hundreds of light bulbs just by pounding on a sidewalk square.
Innovation like that is exactly what Tokyo is looking for, especially since energy consumption in Tokyo has been steadily increasing in recent years.
There are also plans to use subsidies to dramatically increase the amount of household solar panels. In the end, Sachiko Zenyouji believes homeowners will make the switch.
"Once people live in this kind of house, they realize that their previous houses were not as pleasant, and they don't want to go back," said Zenyouji.