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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

Norio Murakami, what is the smart grid?

Murakami:
The Obama administration started talking about "smart grid" with the Green New Deal 1policy. We purchase and use electricity for our homes and offices. The so-called high-voltage electrical power grid 2is adequately controlled but, on the other hand, the electricity from electric power substations that we are using is not really controlled. Making this "smart" is what is called a smart grid. If we talk about using something in a smart way, then we are using information networks, and for today's home and office information networks naturally we mean the internet. Making an electrical grid "smart" means using electrical power connected to the internet. This is why when the Obama administration spoke about smart grids in the Green New Deal, it was classified as part of the IT field.

Yanase:
What got smart grids noticed in America?

Murakami:
America doesn't have a centralized electricity supply system like Japan. With a total of some 3,000 electricity companies or corporations linked to electrical power, it can be said that this liberalized power grid is susceptible to service interruptions. A striking example is the 2000 California Electricity Crisis 3, where the electricity generation could not satisfy the demand on several occasions and blackouts occurred. As a result of deregulation, beginning in 1996, the price of electricity rates was manipulated by forcing some electrical generating power plants to shutdown. As the electricity demand became greater, the level of supply could not keep up and several blackouts occurred. In other words, in the case of America, the idea of the smart grid emerged in order to improve energy efficiency, energy security and the instability of the power network. And we can go further and say that as America continues to introduce more renewable energy, the need for a smart grid continues to grow. In the case of Japan, though, it is precisely because there is a stable supply system providing high quality electrical power that there has been delay in the introduction of the smart grid.


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Cars are parked 90% of the time

Nissan has for a long time been thinking about how utilizing an electric vehicle's storage battery would make a smart grid more efficient, used in a way that is "smarter." Following the March 11, 2011 disaster, the use of EVs themselves as storage batteries has begun to seem more of a reality, and the company's efforts in the area have picked up pace.

Yanase:
Since EVs we now have this electrical element in our cars, but cars were originally developed as stand-alone units. Masanori Ueda, as an automobile company, when did Nissan became aware of the smart grid possibilities?

Ueda:
If we say the time you own a car is 100%, the car is actually only being used for 10% of that time. There are lots of ways to use a car but even with the different places where a car can be stationary, 90% of the time it is parked. An EV has a high-capacity storage battery, so it's not only a means of travel but the key idea here is that we can use the parked EV as a battery for society as a whole. Smart grids primarily balance the electricity supply and minimize the power usage. Up to now we have always supplied the electrical power according to the level of the demand, but a smart grid system sees the demand and supply communicate -- for example, "At the moment, the power demand is high, it's hard to supply." or "Right now there's surplus." -- ensuring efficiency that reduces such things as unnecessary power production. With a battery cell inside the car, it becomes possible to supply electricity at peak times, since when there is leftover power it can be stored until needed, creating power supply and demand management that is savvy. Alternating this storage battery with parked EVs means that the EV battery is effectively utilized, reducing the investment from society. This is the fundamental way of thinking. By the way, do you know how much an EV battery can hold?

Yanase:
I’ve heard it’s 24kWh in the case of the Nissan LEAF. How much power does a regular household use?

Ueda:
It depends on the size of the house, but for a standard home in Japan it's about two days' worth.

Yanase:
Wow! That's a lot! Nissan LEAF really just has so much power, doesn't it?

Ueda:
An average user has a one-day driving distance of around 30km, which is about 4kWh of electrical usage. Much of the time there is leftover power so if we can use the car as a storage battery for society as a whole, then it will lead to new uses other than just a car for transportation. This improves the value of EVs.

Yanase:
Norio Murakami, since the smart grid vision emerged in America, has there been cooperation between power companies and car manufacturers?

Murakami:
No, nothing directly, because the smart grid is a measure necessary for stabilizing electrical power in America. In Japan, the annual summer high school baseball tournament means it is possible that over three days, in total just ten hours, the electrical supply can exceed 60 million kW. In preparation for that time, they make provisions of 62 million kW. But in America, when they considered being on standby with a steady supply method, they thought it wasn't wise, and rather cut peak times and tried to get the demand curve as close to flat as possible. Generally speaking, they thought the consumers would cut down the peak curves and make the demand flat. If we talk of the flow of the Green New Deal, perhaps it's correct to say that measures related to the automobile industry and those attempting to stabilize electrical power may ultimately converge after they try to get started.

A battery for the home… Sometimes for driving

A parked EV could become one of the storage batteries society needs. Each car could pass on some benefits too, even providing financial benefits for its owner.

Yanase:
While simultaneously enhancing EV capability, is Nissan also running tests to connect to the smart grid social system?

Ueda:
We are progressing with demonstration tests on the possibilities of using an EV’s batteries for storing electricity. But the car’s primary purpose is a means of transport, so trial tests to determine its social system benefits are secondary. As an example, we become able to use electrical power more skillfully in a smart house by using an EV battery. We could save surplus power gained from solar panels during the daytime and use it in the evening, or store power from the grid at night, when demand is low and use it during the day. Right now, surplus power from solar panels is returned to the grid through a buyback system, but, with the lowering of the price of solar panels, the price of the power soon drops below electric grid rates. In this way, it then makes more sense economically to use the surplus power you have saved up for your own consumption. Japan is aiming to have 28 million kW generated by solar power by 2020 and 70% of that will be generated by private household solar panels. At the same time, once solar power goes beyond 10 million kW, the grid cannot absorb this unstable power source. In order to absorb the fluctuation, it was announced that between 7 and 8 trillion yen's worth of storage batteries would be necessary. If parked EVs could take on the role of part of these storage batteries, then the benefit of the contribution would be passed back to EV owners and drivers. There are both social and personal pluses with this scenario, simultaneously expanding renewable power and leading to savings on electricity costs for private households and to reductions to the lay out required from society as a whole.

Yanase:
And not just the storage batteries, it would be great for the whole car market. Norio Murakami, could you explain about the scheme for completing the smart grid?

Murakami:
It's pretty hard to say when the smart grid would be "complete," but if we take one indicator as being when the smart grid reaches the whole of Japan, then there would be smart meters in the 80 million households and businesses that use electricity nationwide. The use of smart meters is being considered by around 2020. If that happens then at the very least we will be able to see the power consumption or be able to control usage. If household automobiles are parked 90% of the time, then in the future they would be characterized as "household storage batteries, sometimes for driving."

Yanase:
We can think of them as storage batteries with tires.

Murakami:
I've heard that Nissan LEAF connects to a Nissan cloud. We can say cars will be household batteries, sometimes for driving, but from an IT company's perspective, an EV is a "smart grid terminal" device. In this way it gets really exciting!

Yanase:
The relationship between the power grid and automobiles will be like having hardware devices on top of networks like Google's and Apple's. What's more, you can always understand what is where.

Murakami:
What's starting to happen now is close to when the internet was privatized at the start of the 1990s. The internet was communication between people, sending each other emails, connecting to Facebook and Twitter. Then the internet allowed communication between objects. In other words, the conversation that could occur between a Nissan LEAF car that has just come home and a household solar panel, saying, "Do you want to charge up?" "Do you want to discharge power?" On top of this, we can look forward to what will be the equivalents of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.