Comverge has made its largest splash in Asia to date with a new regional research and development operation in Japan. The R&D facility was partially funded by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) as part of a subsidy program that brings foreign businesses to Japan for new high-value-added business.

Japan’s utilities have turned their attention to demand-side management as the industry continues to contend with generation limits in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.

The government is already pushing building energy management systems out of the lab and into building stock, according to a report from GTM Research, The Smart Grid in Asia, 2012-2016: Markets, Technologies and Strategies. The market for residential energy management alone could be worth more than $2 billion by 2015, GTM Research found, with the potential for the commercial market being far larger.

Although there has been a lot of technology investment in the country, it is unclear where, how and when demand response will play out in Japan. When Comverge looked at the Japanese market, an R&D facility seemed like the most appropriate way to answer some of those questions, and the firm may be well positioned to leverage an early-mover advantage.

The market will likely need to adopt standards, such as the OpenADR protocol, which is a communications standard for automated demand response. There may also need to be other standards for the devices that are communicating with the grid.

Comverge expects to use its demand response platform, IntelliSOURCE, as a baseline and then adjust it for the specific needs of the Japanese market. “My guess is they will introduce demand response at an accelerated level,” said David Ellis, managing director of Comverge International.

When the OpenADR Alliance took its technology to Tokyo in June, engineers from about a dozen member companies showed up for interoperability testing. The Alliance will host another testing event in September and has said that more than 40 companies attended a one-day workshop after the event in June. Japanese OpenADR Alliance members include many prominent companies, including Fuji Electric, Toshiba, Hitachi, Mitsubishi and more.

The OpenADR Alliance is also working with Waseda University on a research project for METI, according to Barry Haaser, managing director of the OpenADR Alliance. “The OpenADR Alliance is laying the foundation for global adoption of this important standard for automated demand response,” Haaser said in a statement. Like the Comverge research, however, it is still very early days for the work being done at Waseda University.

It is still a foundational time for demand response in Japan. “It’s difficult to predict when everything will fall into place,” said Ellis, but Comverge is betting demand response will take off relatively quickly in Japan since the company is very strategic about where it goes outside of North America.

Japan, which already has one of the most advanced electrical grids in the world, will likely take the same approach to demand response, as can be seen by its early interest in the OpenADR standard. It won't be making telephone calls telling people to shut down load; expect lots of automation and advanced technologies to help bring demand response to fruition in Japan. 

Many of the pilots conducted in Japan have revolved around sophisticated home energy management systems that connect to smart appliances which can respond to time-of-use signals. “From a cultural standpoint, the Japanese have long been energy conservationists," wrote Kamil Bojanczyk, lead author of the GTM Research report. "Therefore, it is often easier to convince them to participate in load reduction programs."