Local governments in Japan see chance for EVs to be 'batteries on wheels' during emergencies


With Japan being prone to natural disasters, hopes are high that electric vehicles and their plug-in hybrid equivalents could play a key role as “batteries on wheels” when emergencies strike.

Automakers in the nation are forging agreements with an increasing number of local governments to allow such automobiles to be used for free in the event of an emergency.

Nissan Motor Co. concluded agreements with Tokyo’s Nerima Ward and the city of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, last September and November, respectively, to provide such EVs for rent-free use.

Next month it plans to hold an event in which participants will stay overnight in EVs, using electricity stored in their batteries.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., which signed an EV lending pact with Kyoto Prefecture in 2012, is positive about joining forces with other local authorities as well.

After the huge earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture in April 2016 and the massive earthquake in Hokkaido in September last year, the company supplied EVs to affected areas as power sources.

Local governments are also making their own preparations. Nerima Ward has created a registration system for residents’ EVs that would be loaned out in emergencies.

“Electricity stored in vehicles can also be used at home in times of emergency,” a senior Nissan official said. “A fully charged electric vehicle can supply power to a standard household for two to four days,” the official added.

After the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the Tohoku region in March 2011, EVs were used as batteries at aid stations and shelters while gasoline-powered vehicles had to wait in long lines to get fuel.

In Tokyo, widespread blackouts occurred in the wake of the 2011 disaster. A Nerima Ward official said, “People can get electricity that meets their minimum needs from electric vehicles.”

But Japan faces challenges over how to promote the use of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, with their sales remaining slow partly due to their high sticker prices.

Such vehicles accounted for only about 1 percent of the total passenger car sales in the country in 2017, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.