This week, Nissan and affiliate 4R Energy Corporation are launching a new initiative to give used Nissan LEAF batteries a second life as the energy storage banks for off-grid lights in a new effort called “The Light Reborn.”
The concept is very simple — bundle a solar panel, LED light, and battery into a self-supporting product that allows the solar panel’s daytime output to be stored in a battery that will then provide enough power to run the LED streetlight at night. BYD has offered products like this for years, but what makes Nissan’s push unique is that it makes use of used LEAF batteries.
The new product is a logical step for Nissan as the company looks for ways to utilize the most valuable assets in its electric vehicles — the batteries — after they have lived past their functional life in those vehicles (or been rendered scrap as a result of an accident).
The light product by itself is interesting and worth noting, but the really exciting news in this release is buried in the details. Nissan is making a bullish push into the energy storage business with a new 3-pronged strategy that hints at a new model for the company that echoes the strategies of other new energy companies BYD and Tesla. Building outward from the core of the batteries that power its electric vehicles, Nissan slid in 3 major bullet point graphics that speak volumes.
Using Homes as Powerhouses
When combined with onsite solar production, the addition of large-scale batteries as residential energy storage units improves the durability and functionality of the home energy system. This message especially resonates with Nissan’s home audience in Japan due to its frequent and recently severe earthquakes, which have driven a high cultural awareness of the need for robust backup plans in the event of a natural disaster and inevitable power outages. There are wide-ranging knock-on effects from such outages. As one example, the power outage that came along with the Thomas Fire in my hometown of Ventura is believed to have contributed to the loss of water pressure in critical fire pumps, resulting in the loss of additional homes.
Honda addressed the potential for electric vehicles to become part of the solution with its Power Exporter 9000, which would enable plug-in vehicle drivers to run their day-to-day life off of the energy storage system (aka battery) that was included with the purchase of their vehicle. Nissan dreams about a day when property owners can “generate electricity in homes and buildings instead of a major power plant.” Thankfully, solutions exist today to allow this around the world, but another major player pushing for renewable solutions is always welcome to join the party.
Off-Grid Power Storage
The second push opens up a big can of potential for the company. It’s a rather ambiguous product to allow mobile phones to charge from a cart in the mall. Whether Nissan will stick to just mobile phone charging carts in the mall or not is unclear, but the potential for even this small solution to scale up to address the millions living without power whose primary electricity need is mobile phone charging is massive.
While in Bolivia last month for a cleantech project, I was engaged in a discussion about the potential for off-grid solar to replace the need for fossil fuel–based mobile phone chargers. It was made clear in a site visit to a remote village that mobile phones are a key driver for electrification of many off-grid villages in Bolivia. This theme can be seen in many developing parts of the world that lack robust — or any — electrical infrastructure. In remote villages, solutions for solar-powered, battery-based mobile phone charging quickly and easily scale up to include lighting and other necessities.
Electricity Generator Park
The final use case is that of an electricity generator park that sounds much more grand than is actually described in the text. Adding Nissan’s new solar-powered, battery-bolstered streetlights to parks around the world holds the potential to improve the safety of the parks and extends the hours during which the park can be used.