What the Nissan Leaf Has Taught Us About Natural Disaster Recovery

Many worry about finding a way to get power to an electric vehicle during a natural disaster, but what is not discussed is how electric vehicles can provide power during an emergency. As EV innovations continue they allow homes and businesses to utilize their power to keep services, like heat, working during a natural disaster. 

One of the first places this theory has been tested is Japan. Japan has widely accepted EVs and was the first to put EVs to work during natural disasters. Japan is prone to thousands of tsunamis and earthquakes each year. Which leads the Japanese government to spend large amounts on disaster prevention. Nissan, the Japanese-based company, saw an opportunity to utilize their fully electric model Leaf to assist in these disasters.

The idea of using electric vehicles to provide power during emergencies was generated during the 2011 tsunami. According to Nissan Stories, “Less than three months after the first-generation Leaf launched, the northeastern coast of Japan was struck by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami,” said Ryusuke Hayashi, senior manager of EV operations at Nissan. “4.8 million households lost power, and Nissan provided 66 LEAFs to the disaster-struck area.” 

Nissan was first approached by medical professionals in hospitals and EMTs, who needed help keeping medical equipment and heat going for patients. After the successful use of the Leaf to help keep the power on in hospitals, their utility expanded to homes and businesses.  The Leaf models were used as portable power stations, with enough juice to power the average Japanese home for four days, power 6,200 smartphones, or run 100 elevator round trips in a 48-story building. 

Portable Electricity To Help Any Area 

In 2018, the Blue Switch project was created by Nissan as an initiative to promote the use of electric car batteries as viable resources for issues related to disaster prevention, energy management, climate change, and more. According to Nissan Stories, “During those critical first hours and days, the electric vehicles can move around disaster areas and deliver power where it’s needed most. With no exhaust fumes and completely silent, a LEAF can be parked inside a building. It can recharge where the power supply has been restored, and then drive on to another hard-hit region.” As a result of this project, Nissan and 4R Energy were honored by the Association for Resilience Japan. In 2020, Nissan concluded 31 agreements with local governments and companies to use EVs to sustain power during an emergency.

Emergencies happen everywhere of course, not just in Japan. In the U.S., usually, at least two hurricanes make landfall every year, while tornadoes are a menace in the west, and earthquakes happen along the coasts. Having a fleet of EVs as backup batteries can help a community bounce back with minimal effort. 

How Does it Work? 

If you weren’t aware that power can flow not only to electric vehicles, but from them to hospitals, homes, and businesses, you’re not alone. Vehicle to Grid Technology, or V2G, is smart charging technology that allows electricity to flow from car to grid rather than grid to car. This new tech can help supply a community with electricity when needed. Electricity can also flow from car to home. V2H technology enables homeowners to store electricity in their EV batteries for use when they need it. This not only helps in emergencies but enables homeowners to collect electricity when it’s at its lowest price and use it when they need it. 

“I worked for an electric utility in the ’90s and performed hurricane restoration duties in a GM EV1. It was much easier to find electricity than it was to find gasoline after the storm.”

Andy Kinard, Field Sales Engineer for Blink Charging

 During times when water is undrinkable or a house’s foundation is dangerously damaged, sometimes the best thing an EV can help with is getting its driver to safety as quickly as possible. EVs can be powered by natural power sources, such as solar energy. Even in an emergency, EVs can access electricity and allow drivers to get back on the road.

Eliminating Power Plants?  

In recent years, a new term has emerged– “virtual power plants.” What are they? According to GreentechMedia, Germany’s Next Kraftwerke, a VPP pioneer, states virtual power plants are, “a network of decentralized, medium-scale power generating units such as wind farms, solar parks, and combined-heat-and-power units, as well as flexible power consumers and storage systems.” Which opens up the question of “Could a VPP be anything that stores and provides energy? Including an electric vehicle? Energy companies have been working with EV manufacturers to start pilot programs to launch “Virtual Power Plants”. These programs could enable consumers to turn their EVs into mini power plants. 

The time is coming soon when each EV could be a personal power plant for each household. If each driver is choosing their source of power, it’s easy to pick a natural one, such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric power, making an EV’s carbon footprint nearly zero. 

 EVs have the potential to be more than just cars; they present a new way to store and use energy for the future during natural disasters and everyday needs. They can also be lifesavers in the case of natural disasters and emergencies. EVs present a new option, an effective option in the race to save lives after a catastrophe.


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