Nissan’s bold plan to combine LEAFs into a massive virtual battery to help the grid

Today’s media launch of the new Nissan LEAF was incredibly insightful into the future direction of the company and the way Nissan think about electric vehicles.

Nissan look at the LEAF as a big battery on wheels. Given our cars spend much of their lives sitting still, in a carpark at work, or in the garage at night, Nissan wants to leverage that battery in the floor of the vehicle for much more.

The LEAF uses the CHadeMO charging standard. Given many chargers are now dual-format CHAdeMO and CCS2, you’re probably wondering why a brand would choose one over the other. Nissan’s decision rests almost entirely on the fact the CHAdeMO can also supply power in the opposite direction.

If we all run out and buy electric vehicles today and connect them into Australia’s power grid, the grid would break. This means charging times (on top of normal peak usage), would have to be managed.

Nissan sees a future where LEAF owners can pool the collective energy stored inside that big 40kW battery (the US has a 62kWh version) in their car and lend that energy the grid.

This would require incentives to encourage consumers to allow power companies to control the energy to and from vehicles. This may be cheap or free recharging if they allow power companies to charge when it’s most convenient to the grid. Given there’s often an 8-hour window (when we sleep) as long as the battery is ready to go when you need to go to work, you may be open to other people using that power during the night, especially if the tradeoff leaves you paying almost nothing for running your EV.

Normally most EVs allow owners to connect the cable when they like, but program when the car charges to take advantage of off-peak rates. In this model, the consumer would give up that ability, just input their required time for use. It’s important to understand that while power may be borrowed, it’d always leave some percentage of charge in case of an emergency (say trip to the hospital, or natural disaster).

When it comes to providing power to your home, there’s also a good story to tell there. Nissan see that you don’t need another battery on your wall, that your car’s battery could play that role.

Tesla’s home battery has a capacity of 13.5kWh, while the LEAF’s battery is 40kWh, almost 3 times the size. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea, saving the $10k on a home battery would go a long way to justify the current higher price of an EV, if that asset could play double-duty.

There is one big problem I can see.

If you work through the day, your car is at work, not home and not able to collect the energy generated from solar through the day. It is possible that you could connect your car at work, but the complexity of the rebate/credit scheme layers in your employer and their power provider who may be different than yours.

Then there’s the times where you have other family members at home when the car is out and about, shopping, holidays etc. What happens if there’s a blackout, your power goes off, rather than be supplied by a home battery on your wall.

The idea is an interesting value proposition, that imagines your car is sitting still for long periods of time. Another company has a very different world view where that car is on the go when you’re not using it, driving itself to the next ridesharing job to make you money that way.

The battery in the LEAF is warrantied for 8 years and using it powering your home doesn’t change that warranty, despite the extra cycles that would consume. From the experience of the first generation owners, Nissan says they’re seeing a better than expected degradation of the battery cells.

Progress in the battery recycling space may mean they’d even buy the battery back from you (discounting a replacement) if it did eventually need replacing.

Only time will tell which method is the most viable, but Nissan’s approach does mean you don’t increase your vehicle’s risk of accidents or damage, or a need to remove baby seats, clean regularly, or just have strangers in your vehicle.

What do you think of Nissan’s virtual battery idea? Leave a comment below.

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Jason Cartwright
Jason Cartwright
Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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