Nissan Leaf EV batteries to power Fukushima streetlights
Used EV batteries will light up a town in Japan, in an artful repurposing.
Chris PaukertFormer executive editor / Cars
Following stints in TV news production and as a record company publicist, Chris spent most of his career in automotive publishing. Mentored by Automobile Magazine founder David E. Davis Jr., Paukert succeeded Davis as editor-in-chief of Winding Road, a pioneering e-mag, before serving as Autoblog's executive editor from 2008 to 2015.
Chris is a Webby and Telly award-winning video producer and has served on the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards. He joined the CNET team in 2015, bringing a small cache of odd, underappreciated cars with him.
Nissan's Leaf is about to cast the town of Namie, Japan in a new light. The Japanese automaker will use batteries from used electric cars in tandem with a series of solar panels to power new streetlights in the town, which is in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo.
The installation, dubbed "Reborn Light," is being viewed not just as a public works project, but also as a restorative modern art installation of sorts. The angular, minimalist lights operate off-grid, with no need to run additional cables. Their bases contain used cells from Nissan Leaf hatchbacks whose batteries have outlived their useful lifespan for powering an automobile.
A prototype of the new outdoor lighting will be tested at Nissan's 4R Energy Corporation affiliate this weekend, with plans for a full-scale rollout in fiscal 2018. Namie, which is still recovering from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated that part of Japan, will likely not be the only area to receive these new lights. "Nissan will light up places in the world that were never lit before," a company spokesperson said.
Nissan has been researching ways to reuse EV batteries for years, including combining multiple vehicles' packs to serve as power supplies for buildings and homes. Not only can such battery systems be useful when the electrical grid is down, they can also store electricity purchased from the grid during lower-cost off-peak hours for later use, not unlike Tesla's Powerwall. Nissan's similar xStorage home unit is already on sale in other countries.
Future applications for second-life EV batteries could also include use as remote power supplies in areas ravaged by natural disaster.
Battery repurposing and recycling at scale for a manageable cost remains one of the biggest hurdles in the auto industry's transition to electric power over the long term. But even though automakers like Nissan have already been investigating second-life usage for batteries for years, industry experts think this market is just getting started.
As a company spokesperson says in a video for the Reborn Light project, "Even when batteries no longer serve to power cars, they can be reborn to keep serving humans."