Back in 2011, just as Nissan was ramping up production of its LEAF electric hatchback, a massive 9.0 magnitude undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan unleashed untold destruction on the East coast of Japan. The earthquake, which occurred at 2:46pm local time, caused a powerful tsunami which not only reached a height of 133 feet, but travelled more than 6 miles inland, destroying everything in its path.
For those lucky enough to survive the initial earthquake, tsunami and subsequent aftershocks, the following weeks and months were spent trying to restore utilities as quickly and as safely as possible, prioritizing areas where emergency response centers were set up to care for the injured and displaced.
In the time since then, Japan — and other countries and cities located in earthquake hotspots around the world — have worked hard to ensure that the lessons learnt on March 11, 2011 can be used to ensure that next time a mega quake hits, proper planning and preparedness means that recovery efforts are not hampered by a lack of infrastructure.
Leading the way is the International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS) at Tohoku University in Japan. With plenty of first hand experience, it is formulating a global disaster plan that communities around the world can follow to ensure emergency aid is given quickly and reliably in the event of a massive disaster. And at a recent full-scale simulated earthquake in Sendai, Japan, IRIDeS highlighted the important role electric vehicles can play in that disaster relief plan.
Using two Nissan e-NV200 electric vans as well as specially-made battery backup suitcases, staff were able to bring a full-scale disaster command centre online and operational, just minutes after a simulated earthquake.
“In the Great Earthquake, we experienced a lack of information and electrical power supply. In this drill, we see that EVs and portable batteries can contribute to disaster response, and we are checking on what exact capabilities,” said Professor Fumihiko Imamura, head of IRIDeS.
While the LEAF2Home CHAdeMO-enabled base stations available for Japanese LEAF and e-NV200 owners can both charge an electric vehicle and pull power back out of the battery pack in an emergency to power a home, the real-time disaster simulation did not use such a station to pull power from the electric vehicles to power the command centre.
Instead, they used a powerful on-board power inverter connected to the car’s electrical system to directly provide 100-volts AC to an extension cord feeding power into the command centre. Meanwhile, a sophisticated energy management system displayed the total amount of power being drawn from each vehicle on a screen inside the command center.
“In the event of a large earthquake, it is said that electricity is restored faster than gas and water,” said Masakazu Matsubara of Nissan’s Battery Business Unit. Despite that, he explained, it is important for emergency command centers and emergency buildings to have power immediately following a major disaster.
The power in the lithium-ion battery packs of vehicles like the Nissan LEAF or Nissan e-NV200 are a perfect stopgap, although Nissan is careful to note that with a fully-charged battery pack, both vehicles can provide enough power to keep electronic items like rice cookers, radios and laptop computers running for many days. Even our power-hungry Transport Evolved desktop video production computer — which uses around 700 watts when operating with all of its associated monitors and perhipherals — could be powered for more than a day from a Nissan LEAF’s battery pack.
“The interest of local government and companies towards mobile energy storage devices, including our EVs and portable batteries, is growing,” he continued. We believe that these devices will contribute to disaster response greatly.
Of course, traditional methods of providing power in a disaster can still be used, such as on-site power generators fuelled by gasoline or diesel. But while they must operate outside, the beauty of using electric cars — or to that matter hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — is that they can operate inside if required, since they have no harmful tailpipe emissions.
Disclaimer: If you’re technically minded, it is possible to hook up your own 12-volt power inverter to your electric car to provide mains current electricity in the event of an outage or disaster. But we should note here that high-current inverters should be connected to your car’s 12-volt battery terminals, not the 12-volt accessory socket within your car. Additionally, you should check the ratings of your car’s 12-volt accessory battery and your car’s DC to DC converter (the unit which uses power from the main traction battery to keep the accessory battery topped up) to ensure you won’t overload your electric car’s power system.
As always however, do not attempt to use your car’s main traction battery to provide power, and seek professional help if you are unsure of how to connect things up. You have been warned — and Transport Evolved LLC accepts no liability or responsibility for those who manage to cause damage to their car by attempting such a hookup.
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