Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Japan Electric Vehicle Developments

Update October 2014:

One of the items mentioned below -- use of EV batteries for inexpensive on-grid electricity storage, is the subject of a new study in California, at UCLA/UC Berkeley law schools.  (The issues are primarily regulatory and legal, not technological, so this is a sensible sponsorship, contrary to initial impression).  This study posits "re use" of batteries taken from used EVs -- which should ease any concerns that automakers had about concurrent use. And it would, of course, increase EV resale value if the old, used battery were seen as having a high value.  See the study at the hyperlink.


Original Post 2012:

It seems like forever that the Toyota Prius has been the monthly #1 or #2 top selling car make/model in Japan.   And if you look around the streets of Tokyo, you see lots and lots of other hybrids -- from delivery trucks to minivans, SUVs, luxury sedans and mini-cars, not to mention Honda Insight and Fit hybrids -- with a few of the all electric Nissan Leafs mixed in.

Of course, any self-respecting middle class housewife in Tokyo with multiple small children needs a "dendo jitensha" -- a bicycle with rechargeable battery pack and small electric motor to help her get up the hills with a heavy load of groceries and two children on child seats, front and back.

And Japan has long been a leader in battery technologies, for automotive, lighting, consumer electronic and other uses.  The Sanyo (now Panasonic) Eneloop rechargeable NiMH batteries (AA and AAA) that I have really are far better than any others I have ever used.

So Japan is well-placed to play some kind of role in the expansion of electric vehicles, and implementation of "on grid" battery storage, and the reforms of the electicity industry now being discussed post-Fukushima present the perfect opportunity to accelerate related initiatives.

1.  May 27 newspapers report that an initiative is underway to promote hydrogen stations, in order to support next generation fuel cell cars.  The plan is to have 100 stations by the year 2015.

2.  The Japanese press report regularly on the discussions among automakers and regulators around the globe over competing standards for electric vehicle charging systems.  Japan (led by Nissan with its Leaf) is promoting its "CHAdeMO" standard, while Europe and the U.S. favor a "Combo" system that allows for fast DC charging as well as 3-phase and 1-phase AC charging, all using the same plug.  There is at least some stated desire in Japan to modify the standards to make them more compatible.  CHAdeMO actually has an installed base in Japan (and a few places elsewhere), but with the major US and European automakers supporting the Combo system, it may not be easy for CHAdeMO to carry the day without some kind of compromise, if still possible.  China, on the other hand, is said to be promoting a separate, incompatible standard.

Meanwhile, use of plugged-in electric vehicles for storage seems to be an ideal solution to many issues that arise from distributed generation in a deregulated electric system ... and with a large number of plug in hybrids and electric vehicles sitting around in parking lots, Japan just needs to implement the required charging and smart metering systems.  This seems to me like a much more cost effective use of rechargeable batteries than large in home rechargeable batteries; or the utility scale on-grid Li-Ion battery facilities that are also under discussion now in Japan but very high cost and some years away.

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