Nissan’s Blue Switch project unlocks the energy stored in car batteries to help people hit by earthquakes, typhoons or other emergencies
Outside, there are the familiar scenes of devastation: Rubble. Mud. Broken power lines. But inside the volunteer center in Nagano Prefecture in the heart of Japan, power tools are charging, a photocopy machine whirrs, and the smells of boiled rice and fresh coffee fill the air. In the wake of Typhoon Hagibis, those working at the center have found an unexpected way to plug in: the white Nissan LEAF parked outside.
“It can charge tools, like an impact driver or a circular saw, which we use to remove walls or floors damaged by the flood,” says Ryosho Hara.
The electricity pulled from the car’s battery is shared across the center through dusty cables. Addresses of those affected are photocopied, maps are spread out in well-lighted rooms and bursts of laughter cut through even the darkest moment.
“Without electricity, we can’t do anything,” adds Hara, “so it’s very helpful.”
The idea of using Nissan’s electric vehicles during disasters was born during Japans’ 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which rocked even a nation that’s used to frequent typhoons and endured one-tenth of the world’s earthquakes in the past 10 years. After nearly 5 million homes lost power in the 2011 disaster, Nissan provided a small fleet of first-generation LEAFs to help out. The company also began to explore how electric cars could be used to share their energy.
This is not a distant dream. It’s a reality. Not only in Nagano, but also in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo (hit by Typhoon Faxai), or during the flooding in Kumamoto in southwest Japan earlier this year.
“We’re using the technology now, for real solutions, to meet immediate needs,” says Asako Hoshino, executive vice president at Nissan and chairwoman of the company’s management committee for Japan and ASEAN.
The technology is gaining recognition. The Blue Switch was honored at the 2020 Japan Resilience Awards, where Nissan was the only carmaker on the list of winners. The program was cited for showing the potential electric cars offer during emergencies, along with their role in energy management and the battle against climate change.
Nissan’s wider plan is to create a new “EV ecosystem,” where cars store and share power with homes, businesses and the wider grid, not only during emergencies but every day. Using adapters like those at the Nagano volunteer center, electric vehicles can top up their batteries when demand is low, store that energy and distribute it during peak times.
Already, the power in the batteries of Nissan’s EVs out on the roads have the potential to power half a million Japanese households for a full day. Blue Switch makes it possible to see how static and vulnerable electricity grids can be turned into dynamic, flexible and highly distributed grids.
What’s next? The zero-emission Nissan Pavilion in Yokohama showed that drivers can pay for parking by discharging power from their EVs.
In the Netherlands, 148 LEAF batteries, many repurposed, help power a sports stadium. The road ahead is wide open.