A shift in Toyota’s research and development strategy could put a charge into the nascent technological application of recycling hybrid vehicle batteries into energy storage systems.
This concept isn’t new, but Toyota’s announcement that it will sell electricity management systems comprised of recycled hybrid batteries to its vehicle dealers in Japan is fresh thinking – to my knowledge the first time an automaker has dedicated a business unit toward integrated battery microgrid systems.
More Capacity, More Applications
Toyota’s battery systems will use nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries to store up to 10-kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, double the capacity of another recent recycled EV battery to energy storage project. Once online, the systems are expected to help dealerships save money, integrate renewables, and provide emergency power.
The first systems will go on sale this April and will tip the scales at 2,160 pounds – almost as much as a 2012 Prius. However, the systems will be much smaller in size (about six feet tall, four feet wide, and four feet long), meaning up to six can fit into a typical parking space.
While the systems won’t be mobile, they’ll certainly be versatile. Toyota will bundle them in conjunction with building energy management systems, solar panel systems, and solar-powered carports.
This ability to store electricity can help the dealerships reduce energy use during peak demand, and may prove a moneymaker by selling excess power back to the grid. In fact, after a year of testing, Toyota estimates the system’s combination of demand response and increased electrical efficiency will cut the cost of electricity and gas used for power by dealerships in half.
The Future of Emergency Generators?
Saving money is great, but providing emergency backup may be the system’s biggest asset – especially in Japan. Already wary of power outages from earthquakes or natural disasters, the country has faced severe power constraints as it has attempted a post-Fukushima transition away from nuclear power.
Serving as emergency generation after disasters is becoming routine for Toyota, with online instructions to use a Prius for backup power, but the new systems expand the types of batteries serving as backup. Toyota also envisions the system can be used to power emergency response centers and evacuation shelters.
Innovation Meets Opportunity
Toyota has certainly been at the vanguard of hybrid and EV development, filing the most US green tech patents in 2012, but this new announcement could simultaneously improve the economics of the battery and EV industries.
And Toyota’s efforts are well timed, too. An estimated 2 million hybrid cars currently run on NiMH batteries, and as EV and hybrid sales grow, automakers may soon find themselves with a surplus of batteries – and plenty of energy management systems in dealerships.