Earthquake Accelerates Efforts to Integrate Hybrids and EVs in Home Generation Systems

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Honda and the city of Saitama are beginning an experiment to explore he integration of electric vehicles, solar power and other technologies into a “smart home”, Honda announce on May 23rd. To this end, Honda will have two to three of these homes built by Spring 2012 for Honda employees to live in with their families, allowing data to be collected under “real world” conditions.

Home power generation has been increasingly in the news since the earthquake in the northeast of Japan and the rolling power cuts that followed have shown how the existing model of power generation cannot be relied upon.

A smart home not only generates its own power for home appliances and for recharging the electric vehicle (EV), but also can call on power stored in the EV’s battery at times when this generated power is not sufficient for the home’s needs.

The car makers are predicting that the use of EV batteries as power storage for homes could take up to about 10 years to come to fruition. Toyota is engaged in a similar smart home project with Panasonic and the Japan Wind Development Company in six villages in the northern prefecture of Aomori, and Mitsubishi is also beginning its own project in fall of this year.

This process of bringing these technologies to the market place has been brought into the spotlight by the use of Estima Hybrids to generate power after the earthquake in March this year. The Estima hybrid is fitted with a 100 volt power outlet that allowed earthquake victims who were without grid power to recharge their cell phones, as well as to boil water.

There are currently no hybrid or electric vehicles on the market apart from the Estima Hybrid which have this external power outlet feature. However, Honda is planning to fit a similar system prior to this experimental smart home experiment starting in spring next year. Toyota is looking to expand the range of vehicles offering this external power supply feature, and Nissan is also set to join the fray.

Although these efforts have been given additional momentum by the events of March 11th, it seems to me that this kind of localized power generation and power demand balancing has to be the wave of the future. The reliance on single, large scale generation plants with their attendant power grids not only creates a lot of energy wastage as the power is transmitted over hundreds of miles, but also introduces a single point of failure that can disrupt a whole nation’s economy in the case of a “black swan” event, such as an earthquake.

Just as high level computing has moved away from the single supercomputer model, to one in which banks of off-the-shelf desktop PCs are coordinated together, so the same kind of change also needs to occur in the power generation industry. And this becomes more important as the introduction of EVs increases our demand for electrical power, at the same time that the sources that can provide that power become more diverse.

Source: MSN (Japanese-language)

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