Japan is extremely prone to natural disasters–tsunamis, typhoons, and earthquakes, to name a few–drastically complicating the already complex matter of energy security for the top five biggest energy consumers in the world. Japan’s government and energy industry are all too aware that any number of devastating natural disasters could easily wipe out the nation’s energy supplies, but now they may have discovered a new solution to this enduring problem.
Local government in Japan is looking into the possibility of using the type of batteries traditionally used to power electric vehicles to provide a dependable backup source of energy in emergency situations. A growing number of local government officials are reaching out to electric vehicle producers to strike a deal in which they would have free access to electric vehicle batteries in the event that traditional energy sources are compromised.
Luckily, the best-selling electric vehicle model in the world happens to be Japanese, not Chinese, American, or European as one might guess. As of 2018, Nissan’s Leaf had sold more than 360,000 units. Now Nissan has announced plans to host an event next month to showcase how their cars could be of use in the event of a natural disaster by letting people stay overnight in their vehicles as well as to tap into the electricity stored in the vehicle’s batteries as they would in an emergency situation resulting in power outages. According to officials from Nissan, a fully charged Leaf battery has the potential to power a standard Japanese household for up to four full days.
The idea is not a new one–back in March of 2011 electric vehicles were used as batteries to power aid stations and shelters in the wake of a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami in the Tohoku region of Japan which resulted in widespread blackouts in Tokyo. Then, in 2012 Nissan competitor Mitsubishi signed an electric vehicle lending agreement with Kyoto Prefecture in 2012, before providing access to electric vehicles to communities in need after another huge earthquake with a 7.0 magnitude mainshock hit Kumamoto prefecture in southern Japan in 2016. Soon after, Nissan started promoting their electric vehicles as a possible backup power source in case of emergency in 2017, claiming that in the case that traditional power sources are out of commission for a day or two, as easily can be the case in the wake of a natural disaster, the power stored in electric vehicle batteries could be used for important needs including heating, cooking, and charging telephones.
In two of the first accords of this kind, Nissan made an agreement last year with the Nerima Ward of Tokyo as well as with the city of Yokosuka to provide their electric vehicles free of charge to provide power in an emergency. Additionally, Nerima created a system for sharing privately-owned electric vehicles to other constituents in need of power during a disaster situation, and began using electric vehicles for its police force fleet starting last year.
While electric vehicles are gaining popularity and political interest in Japan, and local company Nissan continues to outsell all other electric vehicle producers with its Leaf model, they are a long way from becoming a plentiful commodity in Japan. In 2018, electric vehicles represented just 0.2 percent of vehicles on the road in Japan and about 1 percent of new vehicle sales, meaning that they won’t be a reliable source of enough backup energy for the entire nation any time soon. What’s more, Nissan’s days of electric vehicle sales domination are numbered. China is on track to eclipse all other producers in the very near future–in large part thanks to their near-total monopoly on the very same lithium electric vehicle batteries that Japan is putting hanging its hopes on for disaster relief.