A lack of a charging network is viewed as the key obstacle to the proliferation of electric vehicles, prompting consumer concerns such as "range-anxiety", or the fear that their cars will run out of juice between charging points. A number of car companies, energy firms and other industries have gotten together in an effort to set standards for electric are chargers that can Japan can take the lead in the electric car sector. As of March 2010 there were 155 electric vehicle charging stations in Japan.

The Japanese government has said that it wants to have 2 million chargers installed in ordinary households by 2020. Slowly the infrastructure for electric cars is appearing in Japan. Video game maker Namco and NEC are cooperating on a system that can be shared by a number of people. Some condominium makers are building charging systems in their buildings. Mitsubishi and Nissan have agreed to share chargers.

In December 2010, the U.S. government said it would use Japan’s stndardized quick-charging system for electric cars — the CHAdeMO Method — in large-scale driving tests, a big boost to hopes the charging system could become the international standard. Developed by Tokyo Electric Company, CHAdeMO can charge electric vehicles up to 80 percent of their capacity in 30 minutes.

Toyota is developing a wireless charging system through a venture with WiTricity, a company that has a patent on a device that can charge vehicle batteries without wires from a few meters away. In a statement Toyota said, “the charging of a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle could be as simple as parking near an embedded charger at a home or in a parking facility.”

Electric Car Chargers and Infrastructure and Systems in Japan

In March 2011, AFP reported: “Ten Japanese companies said they plan to install electric vehicle chargers at the sites of beverage vending machines across Japan in a cost-cutting tie-up.The consortium includes Forking Co., a major vending machine operator, and Panasonic Electric Works which will develop and produce electric vehicle chargers with rivals. Forking has business ties with companies which own a combined 1.2 million vending machines across Japan, or about a half of the national total, company official Reiko Kobayashi said.

“The firms plan to install some 10,000 electric vehicle chargers at the sites of the vending machines in the first year of the project. Charging machines "will be installed where beverage vending machines already exist or together with new ones. There are various options," she said.SoftBank Telecom and SoftBank Mobile are due to provide telecom services to connect the charging systems, the group said in a press release.”

Toyota started marketing chargers for electric cars in July 2011 that sell for ¥280,000 and ¥448,000. They are connected to the Internet to alow drivers to check locations and availabilty via cell phones car navigation systems.

Need for Fast-Charging Systems

An EV at most gets about 200 kilometers on a single charge, barely enough to drive from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji. It takes seven to eight hours to charge an EV battery that is plugged into a household outlet. This has led to demand for companies, mainly Japanese firms, to build faster chargers that can recharge an EV up to about 80 percent in about 30 minutes.

“Setsuko Kitaguchi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The key issue for EVs is long-distance travel. To accommodate the low mileage, many charging stations are needed. Charging time also remains a challenge. Using the quick-charging port, an EV's battery can be charged to 80 percent in 15 to 30 minutes, compared to only a few minutes to fill a tank of gas in a normal gasoline car. EVs' lengthy charging time is likely a frustration for people when they are in a hurry. A full charge at 200 volts can take between four and eight hours depending on the vehicle. [Source: Setsuko Kitaguchi, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 30, 2012]

“Fast-charging systems have been set up at more than 1,200 locations across the nation. A group of EV owners has created a website showing the locations of about 1,200 quick-charging stations and 3,000 spots for normal charging.

CHAdeMo versus Combo Charging System

Japanese EV manufacturers use the CHAdeMo method for charging which requires different plugs for fast charging and standard charging. As of March 2012, the CHAdeMo association had about 430 members, including the major German equipment maker Bosch. There are 870 quick-charging stations in Japan, and another 238 are installed in overseas locations. Currently, only Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. mass-produce EVs. They use the CHAdeMo method. An advantage of the CHAdeMo's plug is that development is under way to enable it to transmit power from EVs to houses. The standardization of the charger could therefore affect other industries. [Source: Yoichiro Kagawa and Takeo Miyazaki, Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2012]

“U.S. and German automakers each developed their own fast-charging methods. In October 2011, seven major companies including Germany's Volkswagen and General Motors Co. of the United States agreed to standardize these into the Combo. The name was chosen because the Combo allows the plug to be used for both fast and standard charging.

“While Combo devices have not yet been put into practical use, the method could quickly gain ground as it is backed by influential Western automakers. "The CHAdeMo is being overlooked in international discussions," said Toshiyuki Shiga, also Nissan's chief operating officer. Nissan President Carlos Ghosn said the two standards for EV fast charging would remain for a while, but eventually creating a unified standard would be preferable. He anticipates that while the Combo method is likely to be widely used in the United States and Europe, CHAdeMo, which is already in operation, will continue to be used.

Japan, Western Nations Aim to Establish a Single EV- Charging Standard

Analysts believe Japanese and Western corporations will eventually create a universal standard for charging EVs. Yasuaki Kobayashi and Kohei Nakashima wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Japanese and Western automakers are expected to cooperate to establish a global standard for a fast-charging system for electric vehicles, apparently with an eye on China's EV market. Japan is promoting the "CHAdeMo" battery charging system for its EVs, while Europe and the United States favor the "Combo" fast-charging system. However, the two sides have recently been making moves to standardize the two systems. [Source: Yasuaki Kobayashi and Kohei Nakashima, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 5, 2012]

“There's really no conflict between the CHAdeMo and Combo systems. We just have to work together to standardize the charging systems," said Hideaki Watanabe, corporate vice president of Nissan Motor Co., Nissan is a main promoter of the CHAdeMo system. Rudolf Krebs, Volkswagen AG's group chief officer for electric traction, said the same day the two sides needed to make concessions. Krebs said it would be ideal if the two charging methods were made compatible in the next few years so they could be merged into a global standard in the next five years.

“Volkswagen, a major promoter of the Combo system, plans to put EVs on the market around the world from 2013 by converting some of its Golf and other popular models. While Volkswagen will use the Combo system as the charging system for its EVs, the company will modify relevant units to accommodate the CHAdeMo system for the Japanese market.

“To make EVs more popular, observers say it is necessary to install as many charging stations as gasoline stations. However, overseas firms thinking about installing charging stations in Japan believe it would be a waste of money to invest in the CHAdeMo system if the Combo system becomes the global standard. Japanese and Western automakers are both aware that a prolonged battle over which charging system to adopt likely will slow installation of charging stations, thereby adversely affecting EV sales.

China Developing Its Own Fast-Charging Standard

Yasuaki Kobayashi and Kohei Nakashima wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “China, the world's largest vehicle market, has said it would adopt its own EV charging system. The country is promoting EVs and other eco-friendly next-generation vehicles to reduce petroleum consumption. It aims to sell 5 million eco-friendly vehicles, including plug-in hybrid cars, by 2020.

“If China presses ahead with its own charging system, Japanese and Western automakers will have to produce EVs that accommodate the Chinese system. This probably would delay their effort to get a foothold in the Chinese market. However, if Japanese and Western automakers join hands in establishing a global standard in the future, they may be able to persuade China to abandon it efforts to develop its own charging system.

“European and U.S. firms already have pressed senior officials of the Chinese government not to develop its own system but to adopt a global system, according to Krebs. For the Japanese side, the CHAdeMo Association, mainly comprising Japanese automakers producing EVs, said they have had many discussions with Chinese officials on making the charging systems compatible. However, China is refusing to budge, according to the association. It will be important for Japan and other advanced countries to create an environment in which China has no option but to adopt a common charging system.

Electric Vehicles That Can Serve as Generators In a Blackout

Jim Motavalli wrote in the New York Times, “Once the province of home hobbyists and a few academics, vehicle-to-grid charging, or V2G, is gaining momentum. When appropriately equipped, a plug-in hybrid or purely electric vehicle can operate like a generator on wheels, powering a house in a blackout or feeding electricity to the grid. New devices that enable V2G are being developed for the Japanese market by Nissan, Mitsubishi and Toyota, with the first systems expected to reach customers within a year. [Source: Jim Motavalli, New York Times, September 1, 2011]

In August 3001 , Nissan unveiled a new system that it expected to offer within its fiscal year to drivers of its Leaf E.V. in Japan. Called the Power Control System, the free-standing module acts as an intermediary between the Leaf’s onboard DC fast-charging outlet and a home’s power distribution panel. Nissan claims that the Leaf’s 24-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery can feed six kilowatts of electric power to a home, enough to satisfy the average power needs of a Japanese residence for two days. Nissan has not announced the price of the system.

Nissan brand representatives in Japan said that its system was under development before the March earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan, but “overall sensitivities of electricity usage” after the earthquake led to “big efforts” to get the system on the market. Nissan said it was investigating the “marketability and feasibility” of a V2G introduction in North America, but would not speculate on the pricing of such a unit.

The company most likely to first offer V2G in North America is Mitsubishi. According to Maurice Durand, a brand spokesman, the company is hoping to put a V2G system on a coming crossover plug-in hybrid vehicle to be sold on the American market in two years. The crossover was first shown as a concept, the PX-MiEV, at the 2009 Tokyo auto show. “V2G can be very helpful in blackouts,” Mr. Durand said. “It’s under consideration, but it’s hard to say if the consumer desire for a system like that will be there.”

Toyota, meanwhile, may also accelerate V2G projects. After the natural disaster in March, the Toyota Estima hybrid van, at the time the only car in the brand’s lineup with a standard AC outlet, provided emergency electric power in affected communities, Automotive News reported. Toyota is expected to add that same plug to the 2012 plug-in Prius, although only for the Japanese market.

Willett Kempton, a professor at the University of Delaware, has long championed V2G. He and his students have conducted an experiment for the last three years with seven cars feeding power to the grid on a trial basis. Professor Kempton is working with PJM Interconnection, a regional transmission organization that manages the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the nation’s capital. Professor Kempton said in an e-mail that utilities would not be interested in buying electricity from individual cars, but from groups of perhaps 100 vehicles. A megawatt-hour of electricity from that plug-in consortium could provide $25 to $35 in revenue, he said, or about 30 cents per car for every hour it was plugged in. He estimated that V2G of this type could be commercialized on a small level in 2012 and reach a larger, multimegawatt scale in 2014 or 2015.

Electric Vehicle Batteries to Power Camping Equipment and Supply Energy to Homes

Setsuko Kitaguchi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The use of electric vehicles (EVs) as a "running" power source is spreading, with many people using them to provide electricity to lighting and household appliances. They can also serve as a power supply for camping and during times of disaster. It is necessary to purchase new equipment to use an EV as a power supply. Despite the high price tag, however, automakers have seen strong sales of such equipment among EV owners. [Source: Setsuko Kitaguchi, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 30, 2012]

“Mitsubishi Motors Corp. started selling its MiEV Power Box in April 2012. The unit, which costs 149,800 yen, runs power from an EV to home appliances. Already, 600 have been sold, against an annual target of 1,000. Demand was so high at one point that it surpassed production capacity. A public relations official for the company said, "[The equipment] was so popular it was like the EV's main function as a car was an added bonus." The Saitama municipal government, which adopted the i-MiEV as its official car, purchased 11 MiEV Power Boxes to use as power sources for community events and in times of disaster.

“When the power box is connected to the quick-charging port of an i-MiEV, the company's minicar, or the MINICAB MiEV minivan, up to 1.5 kilowatts of 100-volt AC can be drawn from the onboard lithium-ion battery. The box is portable, so once it is charged, it can used to power such equipment as a hot plate in the open air. If the 1.5 kilowatts is used continuously, it provides six hours of power. As a power source for recharging a laptop, which needs only about 50 to 120 watts, or a cell phone (about 15 watts), it can be used for several days. As EVs cannot be driven without power, they are designed to retain enough to drive 20 to 30 kilometers no matter how much is used for other purposes.

“Nissan Motor Co. sells a larger power supply system for its EV owners that draws on electricity stored in the large-capacity batteries of its Nissan LEAF vehicles to power households. A company spokesman said: "The system can provide two days' worth of electricity for a typical household. It's safe even if the power goes out." The company started accepting orders for the system — named "LEAF to Home" — in May 2012. As the equipment for the system is about the size of an external air-conditioning unit, it is not portable. However, it has a large storage capacity, taking advantage of the LEAF's high-capacity batteries, which provide about 24 kilowatts per hour. The system costs 567,000 yen, including a basic installation fee. Sumitomo Forestry Co. introduced a similar system in July 2012.

“The idea of harnessing power from an EV picked up after the Great East Japan Earthquake. It was reported that the EVs sent to devastated areas of the Tohoku region, which faced a severe gasoline shortage after power resumed, were of great help. Eiji Makino, 51, manager at Nissan Motor Co.'s zero emission business headquarters, said, "We realized then that our EVs' large-capacity batteries would be more useful in such situations." The possibilities for using EV batteries are expected to expand even further. For example, deteriorated batteries no longer used in cars can be used at homes and offices to store solar or wind power. This means that even if an EV is scrapped, the battery remains useful. Also, if power generated by natural energy sources rather than oil or coal is used to charge EVs, this would contribute greatly to the fight against global warming and air pollution.

Smart House and Electric Vehicle System

In December 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Takao Hirano, a 33-year-old company employee in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, moved into an energy-saving home called a "smart house" with his three family members. A Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle that Hirano uses to commute to work is an important component of the house, built by Toyota Housing Corp. Hirano recharges the battery of the car with solar power at home. Including the cost of recharging, his utility bills are about 30 percent lower than before, and he also spends less on gas. "Even if a disaster cuts the electricity supply, I can use solar power and the battery of my Prius [to supply the house with electricity]," he said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 8, 2011]

“A smart house is a two-story home with 125 square meters of floor space. Including batteries and a Prius car as options, but excluding the land price and taxes, the total price is about 27 million yen. Since such homes went on the market in November 2011, the housing company has received four times as many requests for information on them than on their other types of new houses.

“In June 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Mitsubishi Motors Corp. uses its i-MiEV electric vehicles as an emergency power supply to maintain the core functions of the firm's headquarters office during natural disasters or sudden blackouts. According to the firm, it plans to use 15 i-MiEV vehicles to secure enough power to keep the headquarters office in Minato Ward, Tokyo, functioning for up to three days. For the emergency supply, the firm will improve its "MiEV power BOX" power-supply device. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 12, 2012]

Electric Cars to Power Traffic Lights in Blackout?

In February 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The National Police Agency and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. have conducted an experiment in which a modified electric vehicle was used as a power source for traffic signals, a development being made in preparation for a blackout caused by a disaster. The agency had asked Mitsubishi to develop electric vehicles that could power signals in a disaster because many traffic lights did not work after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Mitsubishi's i-MiEV electric vehicle was used for the experiment at an intersection near Tokyo Station. The vehicle was hooked up to the signals via equipment for changing electric currents, and powered 20 signals for vehicles and pedestrians for about two hours. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 16, 2012]

Image Sources: 1) 10) Osaka Gas 2) Sanyo 3) 5) 6) 7) Toyota 4) Mitsubishi 8) 9) 11) Honda 12) Nissan 13 Mazda

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2012

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