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.