Nissan Leaf
Nissan Leaf (Photo Credit: www.shutterstock.com)

By Gugu Lourie

Electric vehicle enthusiasts and owners in South Africa will be thrilled to hear that Nissan is testing a solution to use its electric car, the Leaf, to provide power for household needs.

South Africa does not have a reliable electricity supply to households and business owners.

In 2008, the country’s power utility Eskom unintentionally started rolling blackouts that plunged the country into darkness. The economy stumbled, and households and business owners were forced to invest into alternatives source of energy such as solar systems and generators. In 2015, Eskom suffered its worst power outage and sometimes they still do sporadically – blamed for various issues.

The country needs an alternative source of energy such as renewables to power residences.

The solution being tested by Nissan could help homes and business owners keep the lights on. The Japan car manufacturer is also testing other solutions to be deployed in South Africa.

This is exciting and just maybe could imply that a Nissan Leaf could be turned into a “mini generator or power station”. We should wait-and-see until Nissan reveals the details of what it terms the ‘bi-directional charger technology’.

Nissan, in partnership with South Africa’s uYilo e-Mobility programme, is to demonstrate its revolutionary technology that allows power stored in electric vehicles to be used in a range of home and commercial applications.

The world’s best-selling electric vehicle, the Nissan LEAF – the only commercial electric vehicle used for bi-directional energy transfer capability – is being used in a uYilo field test programme to demonstrate and develop charger technology in South Africa, Nissan said.

It added that once implemented, it will allow LEAF owners to utilise the vehicle’s battery capacity in a variety of ways, in addition to driving.

Comprising Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G), Vehicle-to-Home (V2H) and Vehicle-to-Load (V2L) systems, the technology allow the use of the Nissan LEAF’s battery not only for mobility but for multiple energy storages uses and applications.

“The technology is part of Nissan’s global Intelligent Mobility vision, demonstrating how we can integrate zero emissions driving with efficient renewable energy systems for domestic and commercial use,” said Nissan South Africa’s managing director, Mike Whitfield.

The ground-breaking technology was first rolled out in Japan in 2012 when Nissan launched the ‘LEAF to home’ power supply system.

The system transfers the energy stored in the LEAF’s battery to a dedicated V2H station, providing power for household needs.

The technology has been further developed to deliver V2G, allowing energy in the battery to be traded with municipal and energy utilities to increase capacity, while also providing the opportunity to stabilise the grid during peak electricity usage.

Heading the technology localisation programme is Hiten Parmar, director of the uYilo e-Mobility Programme hosted by Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University engineering innovation hub, eNtsa.

“While the electric vehicle supply equipment for this technology is being introduced gradually globally, we have the opportunity to leverage insight in South Africa where we aim to enable and facilitate the development of these value-add products at a lower cost locally”, said Parmar.

“Localising the bi-directional battery technology will have enormous benefits for South African LEAF owners, our auto and energy industries, and the economy as a whole,” said Whitfield.

uYilo – bringing together government entities and industries, alongside car manufacturing stakeholders – is tasked with fast-tracking the development and commercialization of key technologies that will support the electric vehicle (EV) industry. Since the establishment of uYilo as the national e-Mobility programme in 2013 by the Technology Innovation Agency, the Nissan LEAF has been used in various field tests.

A 2015 study, for example, found that running an all-electric LEAF for a year costs R18, 000 less than a petrol car, based on the average South African annual mileage of 30,000 kilometres.

uYilo has initiated the technology localisation study after receiving support from Nissan in Japan to explore the local development of the bi-directional technology. This follows the acquisition of the necessary specifications by Nissan’s quick-charge partner CHAdeMO.

While the timing for full implementation of the hardware for local product development is yet to be confirmed, uYilo is aiming to unveil an initial demonstration and testing within the next six months.

uYilo is also engaging with Nissan and other global developers and product distributors of a vehicle-to-everything (V2X) system that could eventually be integrated into South Africa’s greater ecosystem.

If the test of the ‘bi-directional charger technology’, South Africa’s national grid will get a boost from electric cars such as Nissan Leaf and hopefully increase sales of electric vehicles.

This will likely pave the way for a new era of green transport and smart cities across South Africa.

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