Power Pack - Amelia Ritchie

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Wednesday 12 February 2020

I want you to picture the Nissan Leaf. It’s small, not the sportiest and let’s be honest, it’s not going to be winning any beauty contests, at least not the first generation model. In any case, it may come across as quite unremarkable to many.

Now imagine this. You’re at home, it’s the evening, you’re halfway through dinner, and… the power goes off. Must have been that storm outside. Never mind – you pull out your phone, swipe and tap a few times and the living room lights come back on, the fridge is humming again, and the kids’ devices are back to charging. And it’s all thanks to the Leaf sitting in the garage.

It’s not a stretch of the imagination. After the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, Nissan fast-tracked the development of a technology it was working on that would enable bi-directional charging for the Leaf model. Essentially, it would allow the car to switch to a mobile power supply. To date, around 7000 installations of what’s been dubbed ‘Vehicle to Home’ (V2H) technology are live in Japan. Now little old NZ is getting a taste of this tech through energy company Vector Limited. I caught up with Cristiano Marantes, Vector’s General Manager of Product, Technology and Innovation, to chat about the V2H trial currently being run in Piha.

Though we chat over the phone, the energy (excuse the pun) and passion I can hear in Cristiano’s voice is contagious. “This is one of the technologies that will revolutionise the transport and energy industries” he tells me. It’s easy to see why.

As we talk, I find myself becoming more of a fan of this little Nissan and the potential it has – not just when the power goes out, but to become an asset more focused on the utilisation of the battery rather than the car around it. Think of it as the next iteration of the way people carry a battery pack to charge devices on the go. And soon it won’t just be the Leaf – Cristiano reckons by 2024, all electric vehicles will come standard with some form of V2H technology offering.

Back in Piha, Vector’s test subjects have had the use of a provided Leaf and accompanying home unit since August. Already, the car has proved its worth during a power outage in the remote community, which relies on a supply of power via a single line from Henderson 25km away. The car supplied power to water pumps, fridges, and other “critical appliances” such as phone chargers – certainly providing peace of mind to one couple, who were expecting a child at the time.

“The benefits of this technology as a back-up are impressive,” says Cristiano. Along with powering homes and businesses during power failure, Cristiano explains how when solar power is added to the mix the car can be charged during the day, enabling it to power a home through the night. Alternatively, it can return energy back to the grid and help to offset peak times of energy consumption. The vehicles that are part of the wider trial have been across the country powering lights, tents and showcases, even a TV and PlayStation for a group of school kids. And think of the other uses this technology could bring – taking your EV camping and using it to power your site, all the way to being a mobile power source during natural disasters.

I agree with Cristiano when he says “I can see the industry moving in a direction where V2H becomes the norm… and we’ll look back and say; why did this take so long?” This future may not be here yet, but I’m already convinced – and I’m looking forward to it.

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