Led by Tesla, a growing number of automobile manufacturers are growing their footprint in the energy sector, building on their electric vehicle (EV) offerings with home storage and generation.
This is alongside the charge of the auto manufacturers, again with Tesla at the forefront, to capture the EV charging market.
Daimler and now Nissan are joining this wave, which has the potential to contribute to meeting utility challenges around EVs, particularly those of vehicle to grid (V2G), and that in the services context of the future utility, should be harnessed through strong partnerships.
Noteworthy also as these include a management system, they provide potential competition to the tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Apple, which have been at the forefront of the race for ‘ownership’ of the smart home. Rather than the ‘bottom up’ hub first approach, theirs is a form of ‘top down’ infrastructure first alternative.
With the shift of Tesla to a ‘vertically integrated energy company’ the die was cast, offering a Tesla EV in the garage, Powerwall battery on the wall and “beautiful solar roof” as “the obvious three-part solution”, as CEO Elon Musk put it.
Daimler followed with the Mercedes-Benz Energy Storage Home in partnership with Vivint as the solar PV provider.
Nissan’s offering, named Nissan Energy Solar, is described as “the all in one solution for intelligent living”. So far it is available only in the UK.
It builds on the company’s launch into home storage with the xStorage battery developed in partnership with Eaton.
According to the Energy Solar website, Nissan has “partnered with some of the world’s largest and most advanced energy companies to provide customers with a fully integrated product range, seamless service and genuine value.”
Each of these companies would no doubt prefer customers to buy all their products – vehicle, storage and solar. But they are also available individually or in combination, i.e. as a solar or a solar and storage solution, independently of EV ownership.
Nissan regards itself among the leaders in EVs and in terms of sales that is so. Earlier this month the company reported the sale of its 300,000th LEAF since its introduction in 2010.
Demand also is strong for the next generation model due to release in February, with more than 10,000 pre-ordered in Europe since its announcement in the region last October.
The LEAF technology also is set to be trialled in an electric bus project in Kumamoto City in western Japan starting next month. The basis is that the use of a proven technology can greatly reduce the development costs of large commercial EVs such as buses.
Undoubtedly active promotion helps and in Japan, new generation LEAF owners are in line for benefits.
Those who sign up for solar generation provider Ecosystem Japan’s Jibun Denryoku ‘personal electricity’ plan qualify for free installation of a solar power generation system.
The stated aim is to promote the use of clean energy to power the LEAF with charging during the day using electricity from the solar panels or at night when demand for grid power is lower.
In a promotion for customers with Shikoku Electric Power Co., new owners receive points, which can be applied towards their monthly electricity bill, for up to three years.
What Nissan also brings, potentially unrivalled among the auto solar storage providers, is considerable experience in the interfaces of EVs with the grid.
As far back as 2014 in Japan the company was testing systems to supply electricity from EVs to homes and commercial buildings in the event of blackouts.
Last year Nissan partnered with Enel with the installation of two V2G charging stations at the Genoa headquarters of the Italian Institute of Technology as part of a corporate EV sharing pilot.
The company also is working with Northern Powergrid in the UK on the role of EVs, batteries and other technologies in providing support to energy networks.
Most recently Nissan launched a project with TEPCO – its first of its kind in Japan – to set up a virtual power plant with EVs, to investigate controlled charging and discharging to stabilise the grid.
According to a statement Nissan plans to partner with power companies globally to create such virtual power plants using EVs.
This offers a valuable opportunity for these companies. As EVs scale up controlled charging will be essential, particularly in areas with high density of ownership. But the more challenging V2G will be key to unlocking the potential of EVs as a resource for flexibility and in turn the full potential of such virtual power plants.
With the ‘communities’ it could build, the Energy Solar solution could open the way to making these virtual power plants a reality.