The Power of Sun and Wind

Summary: Japan is generating more renewable energy and exploring ways to reduce consumption. We see a steel factory completely powered by wind and solar power during the daytime.

While touring around Toyohashi, we saw large solar arrays and windmills. From our Wind City Hotel, we could see a Tokyo Steel factory with multiple wind turbines and a large field of solar panels. I was surprised to see they were all on the ground, since land is a precious commodity in Japan.

img_20161110_072700227When our hosts drove us to the top of Mt. Zao, we were afforded a commanding, panoramic view of Atsumi Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the Atsumi Peninsula. We could also see our hotel, the steel factory, and the windmills and solar panels.

Exhibits in the visitors building atop Mt. Zao showed the locations of the solar arrays and windmills, as well as kilowatts generated. My limited knowledge of Japanese and power generation prevented me from comprehending the numbers, but our hosts told us that the steel factory is completely powered by wind and solar during the day.

And it appears that additional fields of solar panels are planned for the future. It was inspirational to see! And just today I read an article about how one of the American Samoa Islands, previously 100% dependent on diesel power, is now 100% solar powered.

One exhibit showed some beautiful lighting solutions that used LED instead of incandescent or fluorescent lights. It was a good reminder that energy conservation can be implemented immediately while large windmills and solar panels take time and capital to implement.

Another fun interactive exhibit projected undersea creatures on the floor. As you walked around, some fishes swam away, while others were attracted to you. One wall was covered with leaves, and as you waved in front of the wall, flowers bloomed and strawberries appeared. I can imagine these exhibits can entertain children for a long time.

While debates rage over extraction, transportation, refining, and burning of petroleum products, this visit provided a glimpse of what is possible today in terms of renewable power and energy conservation. The Japanese have already had to make do with precious little space and resources, and they continue to innovate.

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Getting There (2016 version)

Summary: Singapore Airlines was great, as expected, but maybe we’ll try a different route and airline next time.

We’d had such a pleasant experience flying Singapore Airlines that I wanted to use them again, even though that would require a switch at dreaded LAX. But Singapore is really that good.

Even in economy class, the seats are pretty comfortable (and that goes for an over-6-footer such as myself). The free movies, free drinks, excellent food, generous baggage allowance, and incredibly polite flight attendants make the long haul over the Pacific more than just bearable.

And purchasing our tickets about 9 months prior to departure ensured a reasonable price. The early purchase came back to bite us a bit, though. A significant change in departure time required us to stay overnight in an LAX hotel, with an unexpectedly extra amount of time and money.

One traveler in our group who is getting older decided to order wheelchair service. That turned out to be a real boon to our entire party. The various airport attendants were courteous and able to take us directly to our gates. We didn’t have to spend any time figuring out where our gates were, where the elevator was, etc. Plus, we enjoyed the option of boarding early.

Since Singapore allows two checked bags for free, however, overhead bin storage was never an issue, so boarding early wasn’t an urgent necessity. Also, at the other end, we had to wait for all the other passengers to deplane before we could. That wasn’t a big issue, either, since the large planes used by Singapore Airlines have multiple gangways, so boarding and deplaning go remarkably quickly. We made sure to tip our wheelchair attendants well.

Despite the superb food, beverage, service, and comfort on Singapore Airlines, I may try a different airline and route next time.

My cousins opted to fly from Vancouver, BC to Haneda on ANA (All Nippon Airlines). They enjoyed several advantages. First, their airfare was eye-poppingly low. Whereas anything around $1,000 US (round trip per person) or less is a really good deal from my home city (direct flights from Portland to Tokyo usually run $1,200 to $1,600), my cousins’ direct flight from Vancouver, BC to Haneda was under $700 US (I suspect the strong US dollar vs. the Canadian dollar helps reduce the cost).

Secondly, they flew into Haneda instead of Narita. Haneda is much closer to Tokyo and easier to get to and from than Narita. And they flew from Vancouver, BC, rather than through LAX. ANA and other Asian carriers, many of which receive high customer satisfaction reviews, fly between Vancouver, BC, and Japan.

That route is definitely worth considering for my next trip to Japan. Of course, I have to factor in the cost of getting to Vancouver from Portland, but if prices are as competitive as they were for my cousins, we may still save money, enjoy good service, and avoid both LAX and Narita airports.