Battle Of The Batteries: Toyota And Nissan Power Houses With Cars

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

„When will it discharge?“ asked a reporter on Monday at Nissan. I ducked under my desk. “In one or two years,” answered Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. I broke cover when I realized that they were talking about the Leaf powering the house.

Running your house from your car battery suddenly is all the rage in Japan. Why would you do that? It doesn’t need another tsunami for Japanese to worry about electricity. What’s the hottest Android app in Nippon? “TEPCO usage!” It shows us how much power we consume. Yesterday (green line,) we were at 93 percent, perilously close to overload.

“And it’s not even July yet,” said Paul Nolasco of Toyota, who today met a perspiring me at the Nagoya Shinkansen station. We were on our way to Toyota City, to witness the discharge of a Toyota Prius into a house.

As it turned out, the house is ready, but the car is not. The plug-in hybrid Prius won’t be commercially available before 2012. By that time, Toyota also wants to have figured out how to discharge the juice in the Prius back into the house.

But boy do they have the house! And a few hundred more on the way. Prefabbed by Toyota Housing Corporation, the house comes with networked electrical appliances, solar panels, a 5 kwh household storage battery, and assorted gadgetry. Of course, there is a charging pod with a CHAdeMO compliant plug.

Inside are many screens that allow the owners of the house to monitor electric consumption if watching today’s episode of “Kiri ni sumu akuma” (“Devil in the fog”) should not be gripping enough.

We didn’t need Japanese soap operas for suspense. When the national and international press (the latter represented by Ran Kim of Reuters and this reporter) descended on the smart home made by Toyota, a Mitsubishi i-MiEV was found parked side-by-side with the Prius plug-in hybrid prototype.

The intruder was promptly removed.

Then, the PHV Prius was ready to Meet The Press.

This is the load center of the house. The main breaker says 75A. Very miserly

The 30A breaker in the middle is for the solar system. The 20A breaker is for the EV charger pod. The unconnected 20A breaker? Further expansion. Note the thin wires for monitoring. The coils around the two hot legs of the 30A breaker allow for amperage measurement. The EV charger pod has its own communication capabilities.

This is the 5 kwh storage battery of the house, as introduced by Yamaguchi Kazuhiko, chief of Toyota’s Smart Grid Group..

The batteries next to the house and in the car can be used for when the sun doesn’t shine, or, in a high demand situation, for load leveling. When others in Japan stare at the afternoon peak with trepidation, the house can go off-grid and run from the batteries for a few hours. Should all admonitions to save power remain unheeded and the dreaded rolling blackouts come along, the batteries will keep the lights on.

But what if a disaster strikes again? On Monday, Carlos Ghosn said that the battery of a Leaf would be able to power a Japanese house for two days, the power-oinker of an American house will survive on a Leaf alone “for one day only.”

After he was done addressing reporters, I asked Hiroshi Okajima, Project General Manager of Toyota how long a Japanese house could function, powered by a plug-in hybrid Prius alone. He pulled out pen and envelope, and said after some quick calculation: “With a full tank of gas, 10 days.”

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Robert Schwartz Robert Schwartz on Jun 30, 2011

    I must be missing something. Why have your car run your house. What if you need to leave? Your car will be discharged and will take hours to charge again.

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    • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Oct 28, 2011

      @protomech In some areas people also stockpile fuel when a disaster looms. An Italian doctor friend I knew when I lived there had over a month's diesel fuel on hand at any given time. He had an above ground tank on his property. No matter what happened, he could get around. At our house when we heard about an extended gas strike we'd fill up 6-8 five gallon Jerry cans and store them so we could get back and forth to work and the store. Most gas strikes were short lived - maybe 3 days. One I remember however was more like 9-10 days. I drove for a refill on fumes mixed with anything flammable that I could pour in the gas tank. Kerosene, diesel, paint thinner, carb cleaner, etc. I have a farmer friend here who keeps alot of diesel on hand too. He has a ginny though I don't know if it is gasoline or diesel but he too is setup for weeks worth of power if he needs it. At my house I have powered a few things via a 750W inverter hooked to my car's battery. That is enough for a few lamps and the TV. In the past I've hooked several deep cycle batteries in parallel to power the same devices for hours without a car engine running. The problem is that I need this capability so rarely that there is no real reason to buy batteries to keep on hand. I now have a Honda 1000W generator. Quiet little critter. Enough juice for lights and TV. I've done the B&S generator thing before and the noise is tiring and in a real long term disaster, the noise might attract unfriendly people from a long way. The Honda I might lock in my shed where it would be hard to hear. Just don't go in there and try to breathe. Our lights might give us away at night but we'd likely begin living with the day/night cycles to save fuel and move into our walk-in closet for TV time.

  • Svan Svan on Sep 29, 2011

    Bullshit. Engineering doesn't have to follow manufacturing. Counterexample: Apple. Indeed, much of the technology industry I am in keeps much of the engineering in the first world while subbing joe jobs to locales with lower pay. There's jut some Japanese pride thing going on here that we don't understand.

  • ToolGuy Personally I have no idea what anyone in this video is talking about, perhaps someone can explain it to me.
  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.
  • MaintenanceCosts This is delaying an oil change for my Highlander by a couple of weeks, as it prevented me from getting an appointment before a business trip out of town. Oh well, much worse things have happened.I also just got a dealership oil change for my BMW (thanks, loss-leader prepaid plans!) and this didn't seem to affect them at all.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Gonna need more EV fuel.