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Since Japan saw March’s devastating earthquake hit, the island nation has been focusing on securing its energy supply with a focus on electric vehicles. With the Fukushima nuclear plant knocked out and many other plants affected by what has been called the worst earthquake in 300 years, widespread blackouts became common throughout the country. In response, off-the-grid electricity sources have become increasingly favored to prevent future failures.
According to the National Police Agency of Japan, the 8.9 Richter scale earthquake and tsunami that hit the Pacific coast of Tohoku severely affected five of the country’s top companies. Toyota Motor Corp., Sony Corp., Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. were the top five which suffered setbacks.
Nissan, the creator of the all-electric Leaf, has taken action by developing a solar charging system which stores its power in the Leaf’s lithium-ion battery. The automaker has installed 488 solar panels so far at its Japan headquarters which will provide enough power for 1,800 Leafs for a year.
Nissan suspended its operations at six plants immediately following the earthquake. Due to damages and small fires which broke out at the Tochigi and Iwaki Plant, restorations took place lasting longer only at the Iwaki engine plant which was in the quake zone. Production restarted March 24 with almost 1,300 Infiniti models lost due to damages during the quake.
While the company’s shares lost 10.1% following the wake of the earthquake, it has regained strength in shares as well as in the development. In a joint venture with Sumitomo Corp, Nissan plans to reconstruct its electric car batteries when they are traded then resold as power storage units. Plans to implement this project are estimated to begin in 2016.
“These batteries can be useful as back-up power for homes when there’s an outage,” said Takashi Sakagami, head of the joint venture, 4R Energy Corp.
In addition to helping household energy security, a second life for old car batteries is also made possible. The batteries are high capacity and composed of various heavy, precious and rare metals which would be problematic to dispose.
Increasing technology of electric cars provides an advantage that is not only beneficial to the environment but also to Japan’s energy security. With electric vehicles, each household could potentially have its own mobile power source in the event of another disaster which disables access to mass produced power.
Big power consumers on the eastern side of the island are now required to cut power use by 15 percent and households have been directed to do the same.
Other automakers in Japan are developing their own methods of bringing energy security from the car to the home. Mitsubishi Motors is developing a portable converter which will allow electric vehicles to power household electronics. Toyota is developing batteries for direct home use to power a project known as the “Toyota Home.”
These model homes will manage power usage, tap into solar power and store excess power in the batteries for night-time use. It is estimated by Toyota’s project manager, Hiroshi Okajima, to be available by the end of 2013.