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Considering the Future of the Smart Grid and the EV

Norio Murakami (ex. Google Japan Inc.), Masanori Ueda (Nissan) and Hiroichi Yanase (Nikkei Business online) discuss the upcoming role of electric vehicles in Japan.

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2012/07/31

How about your smartphone as your car navigation system?

Yanase:
This is a complete new era for the network that cars are connecting to. What kind of things will we become able to do?

Ueda:
Nissan LEAF could one day be connected to a data center, receiving all kinds of information. If the Nissan LEAF's data center and an energy management system infrastructure could converse over a network, then we would become able to exchange power effectively. For example, based on the daily usage patterns and weather information stored in the data center, household solar power generation equipment could communicate: "Today it's sunny, so I'm going to minimize the night time charge by storing surplus power during the day." In this way we could use solar power-generated electricity without waste. This is an example of energy management, but we could also gain a lot of services through connecting with the new kind of vehicles. For example, if we could keep a watch on the health of a car, maintenance and other services would change. We would be able to supply customers with valuable information and services in real time whenever they want them.


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Murakami:
Putting it simply, you could be driving past Shibuya Station in an EV and then your car navigation system could notify you: "If you come to our store, you can charge up for free. Parking is also free." Notices are displayed like, "You can get 70% off your shopping." Ultimately this is the way internet businesses are thinking about how smartphones can be car navigation systems. People who want to advertise there can place ads, and the people who want to sell things can sell them. The era of single-function car navigation devices is ending!

The smart grid & the aging society

Yanase:
In sixty years' time, Japan will have an aging population and a low birthrate, with a population of 80 million being 40% over sixty-five years old. Regional Japan is already an advance case study of this. Due to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, this problem has also been brought sharply into relief in Tohoku. The problem is that regional public transportation and shops are declining, and in towns with many older people, the elderly must now drive. With the kind of car structure we have now, the possibility of traffic accidents is certain to increase. Additionally, when there is no public transport, then a means for moving freely is highly important.

Murakami:
We can consider two applications of the smart grid as being able to see electrical power and control of power consumption. A third is a service looking after the elderly who live alone. In 2050, well, I'll be over 100 years old, but let's say I live alone and my children are working abroad. I get up in the morning and sit on the toilet, and my vital stats get read and sent to my children; my blood pressure is this much, my temperature is this. And working with this, though we can't really call it a fourth application, is a service delivering necessary lifestyle items to other people. A smart refrigerator could enable conversations between the refrigerator and the oven: "This has run out." or "Today it looks like he wants to make this meal with this food." An EV is becoming an internet device, so we can expect to see that kind of data being exchanged.

Yanase:
It might almost become rather meddling! It's surely possible as a system, though. It seems to me that the people who can show us the solution for all kinds of problems are car manufacturers.

Ueda:
We were talking there about monitoring people. As I just said, a Nissan LEAF’s connection to a data center could in theory allow the state of the car to be monitored. In the future, that data might not only include a wide range of technical information but also a description of detailed services. For example, with the permission of owners, it could be possible to install car insurance rates into a database of past driving records. We were just talking about public transport and recently it's often said that there will be a shift from cars to public transport. But efficient transportation systems vary according to destination and place, and it's not the case that we can just arbitrarily say public transport is best. For example, in a town with a low population density, the means of transport require the most appropriate segregation; with just one crew member on the bus, the overall transport efficiency would be poor. From this perspective, combining EV car sharing with public transport would be good for the centers of a metropolis with high population density. What's more, while an EV is parked it can be used as a storage battery for everyone and utilized for energy management at the community level. This becomes the ideal where the community's overall energy usage efficiency would be improved and CO2 reduced, but without restricting the amount of personal movement. As a result, we can use internal-combustion engine vehicles around the periphery of a city and in the suburbs, and when we ride into the city center we can transfer to EVs or public transport. Through this kind of segmentation we can minimize total metropolitan transport, and in the end, for the residents, the smart community way of thinking makes homes and the city easier to use.

Yanase:
Norio Murakami, what is the big hurdle preventing the widespread adoption of smart houses and EVs that utilize the smart grid?

Murakami:
The system is ready, but I think we also have to pay attention to social demands. If we connect to the internet, somewhere we are putting ourselves at risk, right? Social networks have now emerged, and no one is given the time of day if you are anonymous, so using your real name is becoming the norm. It needs to be rigorously decided how our closely guarded personal data is used in that service within the boundaries of the contract, or there needs to be a structure in the system that guarantees that. However, the biggest factor is the psychological result. We can't ignore people's feelings and I think some resistance will likely remain.

Yanase:
Up till now, cars existed as completely private units, but the way we've been talking, the automobile will emerge as something social. It seems to be becoming a new tool.

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Murakami:
I feel that the cars coming from houses in the suburbs and the cars going around the city center don't have to be the same car. What's more, the car you have at the house is like a dress-up doll, changing according to how you use it: the mother going shopping, the father going to golf, the daughter going off to take her course, the son going out on a date. Even if automated driving could become possible one day, we wouldn’t just be driving around automatically anytime and anywhere. For local shopping errands we could, for instance, use pick-up services. Before you know it, private means of transport will be becoming public means of transport. I think that EVs open up all kinds of possibilities, including car-sharing.