It's amazing what the automotive industry has achieved in the last few years in terms of energy efficiency. This is the same industry that once fought against the introduction of seatbelts as an unnecessary expense, but once regulators got serious, so did the auto industry.
The ambitious fuel economy standards being imposed in 2016 are certain to be met and it did not cause the collapse of the industry as some suggested. Now I wonder why the automotive industry can't apply its knowledge to other areas. One example of what might be done was on display at the Tokyo auto show a couple of years ago when Nissan introduced its Smart House.
The house generates its own power through a combination of solar panels and fuel cells. Besides being independent of the power grid, the house can draw electricity from the battery of a Nissan Leaf. That means if you ran out of power because of cloudy skies or lack of hydrogen for the fuel cell, the Leaf's battery pack would be able to power the house for two days.
As far as I know, this was a one-off demonstration house – but some interesting engineering went into it. Now Honda is taking it a step further by building a trial Smart Home in California.
The house being built at University of California, Davis, will be constructed with sustainable materials and powered by solar energy and use energy-efficient lighting, heating and air-conditioning. Of course, the solar energy will also charge a Honda Fit Electric in the garage.
California has set a state goal of new homes being energy-neutral by the end of the decade; that is, homes producing as much electricity as they consume. Honda calls its experiment the Zero Net Energy concept home. The idea is to apply new and emerging technologies so that the house will use less than half of the energy of a similarly sized new home in the Davis area. It will also demonstrate the full integration of electric vehicles into the home.
The photovoltaic (PV) solar power system will provide energy for the home and for daily commuting. There is an Energy Management System, not unlike the one used in hybrid and battery electric cars, which will actively manage energy use and communicate with the homeowner.
Honda is pushing direct solar PV-to-vehicle charging. It says this will substantially improve charging efficiency by reducing losses associated with DC-to-AC and AC-to-DC conversion. This should also decrease CO2 emitted in the life-cycle of an electric vehicle by avoiding the carbon associated with grid electricity production.
Honda has built a couple of similar homes in Japan, but there has been no mention of whether this is a business that Honda wants to get into. However, the link between an energy efficient home and car is obvious. Steve Center, vice-president of the environmental business development office of American Honda Motor Co., said, "Home energy use and personal mobility account for most of an individual's carbon emissions. By addressing both sources together, we are advancing technologies that will reduce carbon and eventually transform home design."
Honda has branched out of the motorcycle and automotive business before. The HondaJet is an unconventionally designed five-passenger jet that Honda plans to introduce to the United States shortly. The program is thought to be running about two years late, with certification still not completed.
But Honda officials have said they hope the HondaJet will shake up the corporate jet business with the same fuel efficiency, clever design and low price that allowed the first-generation Honda Civic to send shock waves through American auto makers 30 years ago.
I'm not suggesting Honda is about to get into the building technology business, especially before we see how this jet adventure turns out. But you can see the connection between energy-efficient home and car could be turned into a business by some enterprising auto maker.
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