Nissan launched its new leaf this week, and claims in has the power to power you home, for a week.
That is a big claim, backed up by big facts. Nissan brought in the big guns to underline the importance of looking at the future in a new way.
Television personality, Osher Günsberg, sat down with me, sharing his personal experiences about living with a Nissan Leaf. Osher is an enthusiastic owner and hinted at the future of the car being more of a battery on wheels than merely a mode of transport.
Does the claim stack up?
In a word, yes.
The complex maths can be simplified by considering two things: 1. The average house uses 6kwh of power a day, 2. New Nissan Leaf stores a massive 40kwh of power in the onboard battery bank. 6X6 is 36, so you’d get 6 days, plus 2/3rd of a 7th day.
But the greenie goodness doesn’t stop there.
There are implications for the power industry, and for the motoring industry. There are two large peaks, morning and evening. Middle of the day sees demand drop back to a low that nears night-time levels. Solar is the most popular alternative method of power generation, but that only takes place when the sun is shining.
Much has been made of “base load power” by vested interests in fossil fuel generation. It has been used as a boogie man to fend off any talk of change, but it is happening, and it is happening now.
How does it work?
Nissan teamed up with Chargefox, an Australian company that installs charging infrastructure. These points can be anywhere, but most convenient would be at home. Nissan customers could get a discounted electricity rate through power providers.
High-rate charging points can get to 80% in as little as 30 minutes in some brands.
Home charging is limited by domestic supply, but overnight generally gets the job done. And this is where it starts to get interesting.
Testing is underway which would allow the Leaf to be used to run household supply. You could charge from solar during the day, and use the car battery at night. You might also choose to take advantage of off-peak power rates to top up.
Since most trips happen in town and amount to no more than 50km a day, in theory, a small change in lifestyle could net saving in energy bills and lower CO2.
What are the Barriers?
In cities like The City of Sydney where 75% of residents are in strata buildings, a substantial number rent. Renters are unable to make use of home charging. While managers have signalled they have investigated installing charge points in underground garages, few have done so.
Community charging is still and option, and for the time being, it is free.
Shopping centre such as East Village at Zetland have bays devoted to EV charging and is included in the 2 hour free parking period. They are not fast chargers so you’d need to stay a while past the 2 hour limit.
Owners of EVs report running for a week in normal conditions without having to worry about range.
Cost is a consideration. Leaf is around $50,000. That’s a lot for a small car.
Look at the Cost/Benefit
Charging at home would cost around $764 per year, which reduces to $400 using off-peak. The average Australian uses about $1800 of fuel per year in a conventional car for the same amount of travel.
Installing a home charging unit is around $2,000.
Those figures alone don’t tell the whole story. When you factor in the benefit of using your car as a home battery, it suddenly looks better.
Not only is there a saving personally, but a Leaf owner shares the benefit with the community by smoothing out power spikes.
There would be no need to build new fossil-fuelled power stations. Solar, wind, and wave energy could be captured and stored by cars such as the Leaf. That energy could then be released as needed whether for driving, for use at home, or, in an ideal world, be shared into the grid. The latter, like solar rebates, would give a financial reward to the Leaf owner in real dollars.
The User Keeps Control
The user can moderate the system.
If you knew you needed a full charge in your car, you could set it to keep the stored power. If you are a canny driver, you might nip in to the local shopping centre, charge for free, then use the power at home. It could be part of your day. You need not change your routine.
Distance is a problem
For the time being, you won’t be driving long distances without some planning. It’s possible to drive to Canberra, or Melbourne, but that is changing.
Currently, if you want to fill your car you have to drive out of your way to find a petrol station. The aim is to have a charger where ever the car happens to be parked whether it be home, shopping, or out at dinner.
The biggest problem with owning a car is that it sees relatively little use. It is parked most of the time, right? What if it could be working for you even when it isn’t actually moving?
You car then becomes much more than a mode of transport.
The other thing people worry about is the battery itself.
“Will my battery go faulty? What will it cost if it does?” That’s a good question. Currently most batteries have at least 8 years of warranty, and will go on to outlive the rest of the car., albiet it with reduced capacity.
What if the battery could have a 2nd life? old batteries could be gathered together and used in an array such as the Tesla Battery in South Australia.
At the end of the useful life they can be recycled. The outer aluminium casing goes straight to the scrap merchant. The precious metals are recovered and reused for new batteries. 98% of the pack can be reused or recycled.
What can Government do?
Without government support, the upfront costs are considerable. Short sighted administrations are more interested in the status quo keeping their donors afloat. Communities have a different view.
The public say they’d consider the following as useful incentives:
- Free rego
- Free/reduced parking charges
- Chargers in unit blocks
- Free charging
- Using bus lanes/priority lanes
- No tax on car
- Toll discounts
See our Leaf review to follow.