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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

Everyone's expectations for the EV

In order to extend vehicle driving range, Nissan is working to upgrade electric mileage 4and improve battery density. Technologically, in the near future it will surely be possible to extend current cruising ranges by 1.5 or 2 times. On the other hand, those worrying about the range are people who haven't purchased an EV yet. Owners and actual drivers already understand how to use an EV, and there are also stats showing that they are satisfied with the present driving range.

Yanase:
As a car manufacturer, are there any obstacles or goals you must cross in order for EVs connected to smart grids to become widespread?

Ueda:
There are three big factors. One is the technology returning electricity to the battery. Another is the communication network technology for exchanging information between the car and the infrastructure. And lastly, and this is the most important, there is the battery's durability. The technological issue here is controlling how not to influence the car battery's life-span while still keeping a grip on the battery's status. If we could simultaneously clear these three technological hurdles, it would be possible for EVs to become widespread, and right now we are verifying this in lots of ways.

Yanase:
From the point of view of the users, you'd want places like gas stations where you can charge up. Will the driving range be extended further?

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Murakami:
From the perspective of the smart grid, I hope EVs will lead the way in battery technology, and that means of controlling lithium ion batteries will be developed.

Ueda:
The key here is the level that you set the battery size and capacity. Technologically, it is very possible in the near future to extend the driving range by 1.5 to 2 times. But if we look at the customer driving distances stats, we see that in Japan 90% of customers are driving under 80km (about 50 miles). For Nissan LEAF customers too there are many people who have no practical problem with the current driving range. Thinking in this way, if we just haphazardly make the battery bigger and extend the range, and the price also goes up, well, then that expense would be borne by our customers. More than the battery itself, managing customer travel in a smart way, such as in making charging convenient or guiding people skillfully to their destinations using IT – these are good approaches that look at things comprehensively.

Murakami:
Since the March 11 disaster it can't be denied that Japan hasn't been in good spirits, but if we look at things positively, the world is on the cusp of change. It's often said that Japan took the opportunities of the Meiji Restoration (1868) and the Second World War to greatly change the country and catch up with the advanced nations. Put simply, a crisis is a chance to change. To get over the difficulties of having insufficient electricity, precisely because Japan is spearheading how to connect things with the internet, I am hoping for some kind of new thing. I am particularly hopeful about the younger people in Japan. I want them to make the groundbreaking apps and content for us that can lead the world -- and the EV will be the computer terminal for this. It's often said that younger people are drifting away from using cars, but the younger generation can still enjoy the car again. With the new materials we have now, I really want them to make the content and structures that will lead the world.

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Ueda:
From the standpoint of environmental measures, for a long time car manufacturers have been working to reduce things like vehicle fuel and energy consumption and CO2 emissions. EVs will of course improve the CO2 performance as a means of transport and by its storage battery expand the use of renewable energy, for the first time creating a positive in terms of the environment and also contributing to the next stage of society. It's not only that automobiles are changing from internal-combustion engine cars to EVs, exactly 100 years after the Ford Model T went into mass production, but that they are trying to massively change the relationships with society as a social system going beyond a means of travel. The attraction of a car is its new allure as a social system making contributions to society. One of those is the smart grid. Through the evolution of communication technology and the changeover to EVs, in addition to accelerating cars as a means of transport, how much contribution can they make to the structure of a sustainable society? I want to move forward thinking about this from lots of angles.

Yanase:
I want to say two things; the first is about technology. Especially after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and then the Fukushima nuclear disaster, I think the public is very distrustful of technology. The most archetypal example from today's discussion is how through technology there will be a shift in paradigms of energy and methods of transportation. What is important here is the dramatic tech innovation and accumulation of technology leading up to the next stage. EVs and the smart grid do not flee from technology, but rather together with technology build the next era. Nissan once used the "Technology Nissan" slogan. I feel that the era of technology has come again. Secondly, using that technology, what can we do? The Japanese have difficulty applying things. The most typical here is the recent trend for younger people not to own or drive cars. The reason is not even that there are already lots of cars or that inside Tokyo you can get by without a vehicle. The real cause for this tendency is the shift away from having fun with a car. We need to change the paradigm for how to enjoy a car to a way that is different to the past. I want young people in Japan to innovate how we use and play with cars through EVs and the smart grid.