In March 2011, a devastating 9.0 magnitude undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan in March 2011 caused one of the most destructive Tsunamis in living memory, killing more than fifteen thousand people and displacing tens of thousands more. Shortly afterward, Japanese automakers like Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda and Toyota — working alongside major Japanese power companies and both national and regional governments — doubled down on developing a way to use electric and hydrogen-powered cars as portable power stations should such a disaster occur again.
Each automaker has subsequently developed its own variations on the same idea, ranging from the Nissan LEAF-to-Home backup power system to Honda’s portable emergency power station and Mitsubishi’s optional on-board 100-volt power inverter system. Each have the same basic function: to use the energy stored in an electric car battery pack (or generated by a hydrogen fuel cell stack) to provide a home, business or emergency response center with enough power to operate in the immediate aftermath of another mega quake.
This week, in the aftermath of a series of powerful earthquakes in the Kumamoto region of Japan, those systems are being put to work, providing emergency power where it’s needed most. Following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake early on Saturday morning centered 10 kilometers beneath Kumamoto City on the southwestern island of Kyushu, the earthquake, its powerful foreshock earthquake of 6.2 and a series of equally potent aftershocks have claimed the lives of at least 44 people, injured more than 3,000 and displaced a further 44,000.
While several large Japanese corporations have been forced to suspend production at local plants — including Toyota, Sony and Honda — Nissan is leading the efforts to help the region get back on its feet with a donation of 100 electric vehicles to be freely used as emergency power stations in the coming days and weeks.
According to a short press release made yesterday, Nissan will donate a total of 100 Nissan e-NV200 electric minivans and LEAF electric hatchbacks to the region in order to help provide emergency power and transportation to disaster relief centers and communities affected by the earthquakes. Additionally, Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC) — Nissan’s battery manufacturing affiliate — has said it will donate portable storage batteries to the region too, helping those without mains electricity power essential equipment while power is restored to the areas.
Alongside the donation of electric vehicles and portable batteries, Nissan has committed a total of ¥10 million ($91,600) to the Kumamoto Earthquake disaster fund, and will match yen for yen donations raised by its employees across Japan in disaster relief funds. It has already donated food and daily necessities — including 792 gallons of fresh bottled water and 2.750 servings of instant rice — to local disaster centers and says staff at its Nissan Motor Kyushu manufacturing facility have been handing out food and water since the earthquake hit.
We should note at this point that Nissan isn’t the only automaker stepping forward to provide assistance at this terrible time: Toyota has committed to donating Y10 million to disaster relief and will match donations made by its employees yen for yen. Honda meanwhile, has committed to providing the region with portable gasoline generators for use to aid relief efforts, has said its Japanese-market telematics system will provide real-time updates to customers concerning road access in the area, and has also donated Y50 million to relief funds.
At the time of writing, we are unaware of any efforts being made by Mitsubishi, although we will of course update this article if it chooses to make an official statement.
While Nissan has not given specific details on how its vehicles will be used in Kumamoto, a simulated megaquake exercise which took place at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science in Sendai late last year does give us an excellent idea of what’s likely.
There, two Nissan e-NV200 electric minivans fitted with 110-volt power inverters (an optional extra for LEAF and e-NV200 in Japan) provided continuous emergency power for the simulated disaster relief center, enabling rescue teams to coordinate relief efforts, communicate with the outside world, and provide emergency shelter. Since not every location will have access to Nissan’s CHAdeMO 6-kW LEAF-to-Home system the use of a less-powerful 110-volt on-board power inverter system is more practical and versatile in a major event such as an earthquake, meaning we’d guess that’s what the majority of donated cars will be providing in Kumamoto.
On behalf of Transport Evolved and our readers, we’d like to send our thoughts and well wishes to those affected by this massive earthquake. If you wish to help relief efforts yourself, you can make a donation through one of these official charities helping earthquake survivors.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.