By on May 31, 2012

In the days and weeks after March 11 2011, when a giant fist wiped out large swaths of Japan’s northeastern coast, and sent the power grid into a near-coma from which the Japanese patient has yet to recover, electric and hybrid vehicles were pressed into a new mission as emergency power supplies. People in the stricken areas used the batteries of their Toyota Estima hybrid minivan, or the much bigger battery of the Nissan Leaf, as a power source for cell phones and laptops when the regular power was out.  Ever since, Japanese became infatuated with the idea of rigging a car to a house – to power the house, if needed. One year later, houses are ready to take charge from a car.

Yesterday, Nissan showed an air conditioner-sized charging station for the Leaf that allows to also send the electricity stored in the Leaf’s battery back to the home when needed. The system does not need special rigging, simply insert the CHAdeMO plug in the car and you can go both ways. Normally, the system functions as an intelligent DC charger that can fully charge a Leaf in as little as four hours, approximately half the time required by a normal charger.  When disaster strikes, the Leaf’s lithium-ion batteries can supply an average Japanese household for about two days.

Today, at a Smart Grid Expo in Tokyo, Toyota showed-off its solution. Instead of a $4,200 (installed) Nissan/ Nichicon charger, Toyota will sell you a whole house. Toyota is in the prefab house business and is promoting its “Asuie” smart house.  It comes with a solar roof and brains that allow homeowners to store free or low-priced electricity for use during peak times. The house has a charger for electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Instead of using the smallish battery of a plug-in-hybrid, the house comes with its own dedicated battery. A charge-back function (car to house) does not seem to be ready for prime-time, but is “feasible” as we were told today. During prolonged outages, a Prius would have more stamina than a Leaf. Whereas a Leaf’s battery would be flat after two days of home use, a plug-in hybrid Prius with a full tank of gas could keep the lights on at home for 10 days, we had learned last year when a prototype of the house was shown. Either that, or drive away after 5 days of roughing it.

The fledgling home charging industry already spawned its own accessory market. A few booths away from Toyota, Japanese Technos company shows metal armor that protects the charging cord from the machetes used by what must be suicidal criminals.

Also nearby, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan shows a Chevy Volt. Not being connected to any houses or even a fake charging station, the car is being ignored by the public.

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16 Comments on “Reverse The Charge: Car Powers House, Japan Style...”


  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Don’t a lot of vehicles have 110 outlets? Ho many amps can they put out?

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      Not much. 250 watts is typical and this calculates to about 2.3 amps. Also the starting battery in a normal ICE car has a paltry 0.3 kilowatt-hours of energy storage capacity whereas an EV has much more, e.g. the Volt is 16 kilowatt-hours.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Getting energy from an EV back into the grid is not a new idea. Alan Cocconi (founder of AC Propulsion) proposed using grid-connected EVs for peak load shaving several years ago and the idea has merit.

    Say, for example, that your EV’s battery is fully charged by the afternoon (you plugged in after arriving at work) and has an 80 mile range, but you only need 10 miles to get home where you can recharge overnight (at lower, off-peak rates). You give yourself a 10-mile-of-range buffer and program your vehicle (from your smart phone) to allow 60 miles’ worth of energy to be sold back into the grid at peak electricity rates. The more EVs connected to the grid, the less peak-load generation plants that the electric utility needs (or very expensive power that they have to buy on the spot market), and that saves everybody money.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      What? If you leave yourself with 10 mi and there is an accident on the East Freeway, that forces you to get off and go 5 mi out of your way, where does that leave you? In a bad neighborhood waiting for a tow truck? And how quickly does this bright idea destroy your ability to charge and re charge your battery?

      It is a bad idea.

  • avatar

    love that armored cable illustration

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    Fantastic!

    Global warming may be solved before the denier nuts understand there is a problem. Of course if this really takes off we might have another ice age.

    In the meantime I want a Toyota house.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    Yeah, why the hell doesn’t the Volt do this already? With the onboard gas generator, it’s much more suited to the task than the Leaf is. Chevy could market it as a vital piece of zombie apocalypse survival gear rather than as an overpriced Prius competitor.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    If you want to see the incredible stupidity behind BEV advocacy, here it is. At what point in your life would this be a good idea? Clearly, if you are home and your car is fully charged, you should leave it that way so that if there is a disaster you can get away from there. If your car is not fully charged, you need to charge it not discharge it.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      While there was certainly a lot of very highly publicized destruction after that tsunami, for far more people the direct impact, once the dust settled, was mostly an extended power outage.

      Not every disaster suggests a “flee” response. Earthquakes have the most immediate danger over with before you can get in the car and drive away.

    • 0 avatar
      JREwing

      I see the merit with a hybrid vehicle, because the fuel supply in the gas tank would last quite a long time powering a home. I seem to remember GM advertising similar capabilities with their hybrid pickups.

      Totally agree with you on a battery-only car in the same situation.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    I love this. Forget about disasters, just a regular bush house, off the grid. Instead of only being able to use the solar generated electricity while the sun is shining unless I install a bank of batteries in a dedicated room, I can just roll up my car and plug in. It becomes my battery bank for the week or two I am there and then I just charge it up and drive back to town. Wher do I buy a franchise?

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    how much to small honda IC generators cost again? If you lived in an area with regular power outages, an IC genset is and has been the thing to do for decades.

    This argument as a reason to go with EVs seems like a stretch.

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    how much do small honda IC generators cost again? If you lived in an area with regular power outages, an IC genset is and has been the thing to do for decades.

    This argument as a reason to go with EVs seems like a stretch.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I suppose people with one car, who live where some of you guys do, may never have need for a home generating car. Here in hurricane country, it would be great. There are lots of minor storms, and lots of people could run down one car keeping the other for evacuation.
    The natural gas generators are great, but the portables are hard work and maintenance concerns. Both cost money and sit around while using your car adds less expense and maintenance. You can still store fuel for it.
    I think this is one of those geography things, like AWD cars, that make no sense to some people while being a no brainier for others.


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