Nissan developing an electric car that powers homes

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Leaf electric car

The Nissan Leaf electric car -- and a home power generator. Image: Tom Raftery/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Nissan is working to make its eco-friendly Leaf car into an alternate power source for homes in times of emergency. The Japanese car maker is developing the technology as it simultaneously attempts to gear back up to full production after the country was devastated by severe natural disasters in March.

A pure electric car

The Leaf went on sale last December. It is a fully electric car that runs solely on battery power. Most cars labeled as eco-friendly, like the Chevrolet Volt, are hybrids.  They use batteries backed up by a gas-powered generator. The Leaf uses a high-performance, 24kwh lithium-ion battery and sells for about 2.98 million yen, or about $37,000.

A Leaf instead of a generator

Nissan president Carlos Ghosn reported that the car maker is working to equip its Leaf EVs (Electronic Vehicles) with the technology to feed power into private homes. The company hopes to have the new cars in showrooms within a year.

The recent earthquake and tsunami destruction in Japan has piqued interest in the vehicle. Nissan’s head of zero-emissions vehicles, Hideaki Watanabe, reported, “Some people are saying that instead of installing a generator, they would just buy a Leaf.” Household storage batteries with capacity comparable to that of the Leaf currently sell for about 2 million yen, about $25,000 U.S., in Japan.

The Leaf battery reportedly will store 24 kilowatt hours, which is sufficient to run the average U.S. home for one day. In times of emergency — power outages for example — the car could be used to charge the next day’s power overnight.

Charge units not yet available here

Nissan hopes to market the home-powering cars without the addition of more hardware. One option, according to Watanabe, is to connect the car to the home via Nissan’s quick-charge unit, which restores about 80 percent power in 30 minutes. It takes a normal outlet about 20 hours to charge the car. So far, the quick-charge units are only available in Japan and run about $15,000. Watanabe hopes to get that cost down to about $10,000.

Plant opening pushed back

About 7,600 Leafs have been sold to date, and about 2,000 of those went to U.S. car owners. The recent disasters in Japan, however, greatly slowed production and may delay the plans to open a U.S. production plant in Smyrna, Tenn. That opening has now been tentatively pushed back to late next year. “Because of the earthquake, it’s putting us in a difficult situation,” says Watanabe. “But we’re not giving up yet,” he said.


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