Turning disaster to opportunity: the Nissan LEAF

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

By Eugene Costello, Journalist-In-Residence


They say necessity is the mother of invention. Few stories illustrate this so much as the creation of vehicle-to-grid charging, which Nissan adapted to bring relief to the sheer tragedy and disaster in Fukushima in 2011.


But first — what’s vehicle-to-grid?


With Powerloop, we’ve launched the UK’s first domestic trial of ‘vehicle-to-grid’ electric vehicle charging. This exciting new innovation, which involves a ‘blow-suck’ battery charging system, allows an EV to not only pull electricity from the grid to charge up, but also export it back, meaning your car can act as a giant battery pack to power your home when energy is in high demand (and extra fossil-fuel intensive).

In 2011, Fukushima, a north-eastern city in Japan, was devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami. Among all the chaos and loss of life, one positive development came from the unexpected benefits of Nissan's two-way charging.


Alvin Castillo, Sales Manager for Octopus Electric Vehicles, explains.

“The Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami was the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, and in fact the fourth most powerful globally since records began in 1900. More than 19,000 people lost their lives and the region was devastated.

“Naturally, there was a total loss of power. Nissan, along with other major Japanese carmakers, sent what help they could to these blighted areas at the same time as trying to deal with the damage to their own factories and dealers.

“Despite the damage incurred, electric power in the hard-hit areas in northeastern Japan was soon back up and running, but six out of nine refineries were down so there was massive disruption to pipelines, and stores of petrol were soon exhausted.”


The Nissan LEAF's battery was used for alternative methods following the Fukushima disaster, demonstrating the true potential of electric vehicles

Nissan itself takes up the story in a blog it wrote for its website in 2015, after it attended the UN conference on Disaster Risk Reduction that was then taking place in Japan.


Recalling the catastrophic events of four years previously, Nissan said:

“After the disaster struck, Nissan received a call from Naoko Iwanaga, a Yomiuri Press reporter who was in contact with affected businesses in Sendai. Iwanaga said an outpatient clinic in Miyagi could not reach its patients due to a lack of gasoline.

“An [all-electric] LEAF that the Sendai Oshin medical clinic had already rented was performing well, but additional assistance was needed, so another LEAF was sent to the clinic from a local dealer a couple of days later.

“The two LEAFs were used to deliver medical treatment to 20 to 30 patients per day, most of whom were suffering from cancer. These treatments helped patients with respiratory conditions, transporting the oxygen inhalation equipment they desperately needed.


“These mobile medics often drove 60 to 70 km per day over the area’s mountainous roads in order to reach patients. The LEAFs stood up to the challenge, allowing critical services to be delivered even in the midst of disaster.

“The two battery-electric LEAFs operated by the Sendai Oshin Clinic were the first of a total of 65 loaned to the relief effort. Operated by nonprofit organizations, NGOs, and local authorities, the LEAFS silently worked side-by-side with 50 Nissan Patrol SUVs, vehicles more traditionally associated with rescue efforts.

“Even during the darkest days of rolling blackouts, the LEAFs kept rolling. Blackouts typically occurred during the day, while the LEAFs were on the road.

“When power came back on in the evening, the LEAFs could charge up for another day of helping people get through the worst.


“After the Great East Japan earthquake, 80 percent of the electrical power in the affected areas was restored within three days. During that time, the battery in a Nissan LEAF could provide light, keep cellphones charged and the radio on. “Restoration of the supply of water, gas, and gasoline would take much longer than a few days,” it concluded.


And the reason is simplicity itself. Japanese car makers use a charging system known as CHAdeMO (Charge de Move). It was proposed as an industry standard by five Japanese carmakers in 2010. CHAdeMO, as used by the Nissan LEAF, uniquely enables the battery to act in two directions. This means that it not only draws from the power grid when the car is charging, but can feed back into the grid when necessary.

The default charging system used by European and US carmakers is the Combined Charging System (CCS), which does not have two-directional capabilities presently.

And CHAdeMO’s ability to take and to give charge makes it perfect for Octopus’s Powerloop bundle and Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) supply. That means that as well as reducing our dependence on petrol reserves when unforeseen events occur (petrol supply being so easily disrupted), EVs can even give power back to the grid when it is so desperately needed.


Vehicle to grid is the technology that enables your electric car to power your house. It's pretty cool

One day, people will look back on the use of petrol to power our vehicles much as we now look back on the use of steam trains. Charmingly rustic and quaint, doubtless, but a relic of a bygone era...


You can find out more about our innovative Vehicle to Grid product Powerloop here

And you can get the car that's central to this story. Lease a LEAF for less with Octopus Electric Vehicles.

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