Nissan: ‘EVs are at the core of our company’

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Nissan supplied the batteries and the technical knowledge to the 2.8 MWh storage system installed at the Johan Cruijff football ArenA in Amsterdam. Overall, it comprises 590 battery packs – equating to 148 Nissan LEAF batteries – of which 250 are second life, and 340, first life.

The final interview in a series of three focuses on Nissan’s role in the project, and what its plans for the future are. Electric vehicles (EVs) are fast becoming the company’s central focus, says Fransisco Carranza, MD for Nissan Energy Europe.

Both second life and new batteries were used, because there were not enough of the former for the project. When do you see the volume of second life batteries increasing?

We believe that we will have significant volume after the first 10 years. We started to commercialize the Nissan leaf in 2010, so we could imagine in 2020, 2021, we will start getting a meaningful volume of batteries coming back. During that period, we can intensify our efforts to get to the market and increase the volumes, because the supply is coming. The difficulty here is somehow you have to match a supply that is coming from the market, to a demand that you have to create on the other side.

What we are doing now is creating this new portfolio of products, so taking a place in the stationary and distributed markets – because this is a new venture for us. A very few years ago, we just made cars. So now we are just starting to have these challenges in solar and energy storage, and home energy management systems. These things are so different from just making cars. We need to learn, we need to work with our customers and partners to understand what the applications are, because at the end, this is the major role that we need to take.

We are here to help tackle climate change, to help transition from fossil fuels to a renewable economy, but we do not pretend to have the absolute truth. We work with the people, the customers, partners, the government, and try to put together these wheels and create the right technology.

What happens to the battery once it reaches the end of its second life?

There is no third life. After second life, the batteries are going to go for normal recycling. So we now have a portfolio of companies that are working with us, and they’re going to take the battery and transform it back into aluminum, cobalt and lithium, and all those raw materials.

Has Nissan been approached by other stadiums/C&I parties interested in installing a similar storage system?

Several, but unfortunately we cannot provide information yet.

Are there plans to scale up capacity of li-ion batteries?

Yes. What we’ve seen today is that the new Nissan Leaf has received an amazing welcome from customers, so the vehicle is basically sold out and you have to wait many months if you want to get your new car. So we see really an amazing response from the market, which is indicating now that the market is coming and people are accepting the car – we’re not talking anymore about parity, it’s time for us to scale up our manufacturing capacity in the U.K. So next year, our customers will not have to wait six months to get the car.

Can you say by how much, and from what capacity? Also how much will be invested in this ramp up? How many more jobs will be created? What equipment adjustments will need to be made?

We cannot comment on that. No decision has been made.

What’s next on the cards for Nissan?

Our next focus is the residential storage market. We just launched a few weeks ago in the U.K. We believe we have a role to play in making every car green powered, helping to move solar and storage from a niche to the mainstream.

What’s the biggest obstacle to that?

For companies like us, cost is not an obstacle. We have the capability to bring costs down. We manufacture on a very large scale all over the world, so we believe that this is one of our major assets that will contribute to making solar and storage, electromobility and EV chargers – these key components – getting them down to the levels they need to be in terms of costs.

Up until now, when you’re talking about a battery in your home, as a kilowatt of electricity, it is not seen as something important. We know, all of us, we have a role to play, for further change and to decarbonize, so we need to make sure people understand what a kWh means, where it is coming from, and why it is coming from solar and not from a nuclear or coal plant. At the same time, we need to create a platform that is high-tech, exciting and high quality. It is time for the big companies to step into this arena, and help the mass market transition to zero emissions.

Why did you choose the U.K.?

We have a strong base in the U.K. When we are working there, it’s like being at home. We had strong support from government, so there are very clear incentives, and for us it was the most natural step to start this offering in the U.K. market.

What regulation and/or policy frameworks are needed to help second life batteries progress?

I think that there has to be some regulatory framework in several aspects. We need to favor the uptake of distributed generation (DG) solar and DG storage. That doesn’t necessarily mean giving financial incentives – there are plenty of other ways of encouraging people, like local government regulations on house renewal and/or new construction, or for the construction of new charging points.

At the same time, we need to help create this aggregation business. We need to help these people provide services to the grid and to contribute to having more stable solutions. This is difficult, because the energy markets were not conceived to have a distributed scheme: You cannot, from a low voltage point of connection, provide frequency services, or voltage control, or services to distribution companies. So we need to help the government, distribution companies, the national grid, NGOs, etc.

Do you currently have an open dialogue with these stakeholders?

Yes, every day. Because at the end, we all need to work together. It’s not going to be solved by one company coming to the table and saying, ‘I’m the biggest one here, I have the right products, I am going to take over the market.’ It’s a collaborative approach. We need to get around the table the government, distribution companies, the national grid, NGOs, regulatory – all of them need to have a common vision about where the world needs to go and where the country needs to go.

Will Nissan become less about cars in the future?

You’re asking the Head of Energy, so yes! Our group sells more than 10 million cars a year, so we are the number one car company. Until we get to the number one energy company in the world, there’s a couple of years in front of us. But what is true is that this business is going to become more meaningful, the weight in the organization is becoming more significant, so even if the numbers are absolutely not comparable, in terms of strategic importance, we are there.

It is happening with EVs: Today they are at the real core of our company. There is not a single management meeting in the company, where EVs are not first on the agenda. So even if we sell very few EVs compared to the overall number of cars, it’s really at the core of the future of the company.

What market share does Nissan currently enjoy in (i) the European EV space; and (ii) the global EV space? How is this forecast to change by 2020?

In 2010, we were the first manufacturer to launch the first a pure electric vehicle for the mass market. Today, the New Nissan Leaf is the most popular electric vehicle in Europe with over 37,000 units sold since it was introduced in Europe in October 2017, and 14,000 units registered for the first five months of 2018. We are also the best-selling electric car globally with now more than 340,000 Nissan Leaf on the roads.

The first interview, with Eaton’s Frank Campbell, President, Corporate and Electrical, Eaton EMEA looked at business cases for energy storage systems in stadiums, hospitals and data centers, while in the second, The Mobility House founder and CEO, Thomas Raffeiner, discussed how EVs are revolutionizing our electricity grids.