By on June 11, 2010

The remote Goto Islands in the East China Sea, about 60 miles west off the port city of Nagasaki are turning into the world’s laboratory for massive EV deployment. The islands used to be known for heir unspoiled nature and their old churches. Soon, they’ll be know as the island of EVs. That because of a large-scale pilot project that began on the islands in April.

The islands are ideal for such an experiment. Range anxiety? The largest island of the Goto group, Fukue, measures some 16 miles across. If you really want to test the range of an EV, go to Nakadori island. 25 miles long and usually not more than 5 miles wide. The islands have an aging and falling population, gasoline prices are high. The cost of bringing gas to the island results in the islands having some of the highest gasoline prices in Japan. Electricity is cheap, brought in by undersea cable from the mainland.

What Fukue lacks in size, Fukue makes up in charging stations. Says The Nikkei [sub]: “While there are still only 150 rapid electric chargers in Japan, in June the islands will have 15, provided by the prefecture. In September, a new tourism information service will begin using the Intelligent Transportation System. No other place in the world has such a well-developed electric transport infrastructure.” By late March 100 of the plug-ins had arrived. A quarter of the island’s rentals are already electric cars, usually Mitsubishi i-MiEVs.

The electric rentals are popular. They cost the same as a gasoline powered car. The electricity is subsidized by local governments, so renters can charge-up free of charge.

Goto turns into a (fairly) big beta test site for EVs. Drivers complain about the chargers. “Too heavy!” “The plug won’t go in!” “The instructions are mystifying.”

The rapid charger uses high voltage that comes through a hefty able. Two levers must be operated. An assistant is standing by to help, but it’s already clear that the charger needs a work-over. Plugging it in requires handling two levers. It takes some practice to use. The city has a worker at each charging station to help, but improvements will be necessary, especially as more charging stations are built.

The people of Goto meet regularly for brainstorming sessions on how to improve the system. Like with portable generators, in case someone ran out of juice. Or to equip the chargers with the nattering voice instructions that are so popular in Japan.

Anyway, if your company is in the EV business, then you absolutely must put in for a trip to Goto Island. I hear, the beaches are nice, and summer would be the best season. Fly to Nagasaki, then take an island hopper, or the ferry.

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