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Green Building News

Living on a Trickle of Electricity

In the wake of Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, a textile artist installs a tiny solar array and goes off-grid

Rolling blackouts caused by a crippling 2011 earthquake in Japan prompted one Tokyo-area woman to cut her ties to the grid.
Image Credit: Daisake TSUDA / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

The crippling earthquake and tsunami that struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Japan in March 2011 was still causing problems for customers of the Tokyo Electric Power Company more than a year later, and the rolling blackouts were enough to convince a textile artist named Chikako Fujii that her life would be better off without a connection to the grid.

So Fujii terminated her contract for electricity, bought a solar panel or two, and began learning how to live with a lot less power than she’d gotten used to.

As detailed in an article published in The Asahi Shimbun, Fujii uses less than a kilowatt-hour of electricity per day. Power comes from a few photovoltaic (PV) modules on the veranda of her western Tokyo home. The total rated capacity of the PV modules is only 260 watts; on a sunny day, the PV system produces about 1 kWh of electricity.

That’s just enough to run a washing machine, used to dye fabric, for three hours. When cloudy weather drains the system’s battery, Fujii can hop on a a repurposed exercise bike connected to a dynamo and pedal for a while to replenish it. She uses a foot-powered sewing machine and an iron powered by charcoal rather than electricity.

She’s given up entirely on having a refrigerator, a television, and an air conditioner.

“I enjoy working out how to lead a life without using electricity,” she told the newspaper.

Working up to the off-grid life in stages

Fujii has taken her conversion one step at a time. Before the earthquake, no doubt like many others, Fujii took electricity for granted. She paid about 4,000 yen ($36) a month for electricity and thought nothing of leaving the television on just so she could check the time when she wanted.

But she began dialing back by turning off her home appliances one by one, reducing her bill to about 2,000 yen a month and finally, after unplugging the refrigerator, to about 800 yen a month — the equivalent of about $7.

Even that wasn’t enough. “I thought I might be able to live without relying on the power company,” she said, “and decided to start an off-grid life for the fun of it.”

She’s had to be inventive, not only in how she uses the meager amount of electricity she consumes but how to find substitutes for the appliances she once plugged in. For example, she made a heater from an old oil lamp and a flower pot. With the pot turned upside down over the oil lamps, just 20 milliliters of oil (about six tenths of an ounce) keeps the pot warm for up to four hours.

To take the place of an electric tea kettle, Fujii made her own solar water heater by painting glass tubes black and filling them with water.

A business partner’s request to send a document by email on short notice sent Fukii to her exercise bike dynamo to crank out enough electricity to power her computer.

These and other measures have reduced her consumption of electricity to between 500 and 800 watt-hours per day, what the newspaper said it about 92% less than the average household there.

“I always live while being conscious of the weather,” Fujii told the newspaper. “For example, when I wake up to find it is sunny, I think I should use the washer today. Thinking this way is fun for me.”


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