In 2011 a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeastern coast of Japan, killing more than 20,000, destroying the power grid and bringing the Japanese auto industry to its knees. Toyota’s rebuilt production plant in the hard-hit Miyagi prefecture now has a gas-fired power plant on site, with enough juice to power the nearby town in case of another disaster.
Toyota’s Axio Corolla plant, outside the town of Ohira, was one of many manufacturing plants that was put offline by the 2011 earthquake/tsunami double tragedy. Soon after the natural disaster, a man-made disaster at the Fukushima power plant cast doubts on Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, and production of vehicles like the Toyota Prius ground to a halt.
With these lessons fresh in their memory, Japan’s domestic automakers are taking steps to ensure self-reliance. Toyota installed a 7,800 kilowatt generator, enough to run the plant at 70% capacity even if the rest of the grid shut down. People need their Corollas, after all.
Toyota joins Mitsubishi and Honda in the application of self-powered production plants that can support and generate power in nearby townships. While Toyota and Mitsu both used gas-powered generators, Honda has installed thousands of solar panels providing free, clean energy to the plant and surrounding citizenry. It also has a 2,600 kilowatt gas generator on site too.
The idea of self-powered buildings is catching on, and automakers are even working on ways to have plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles send power back into the home and grid after a major disaster. After the initial disaster, many parts of Northeast Japan remained without power for weeks, but the proliferation of smaller generating stations at homes and production plants alike could leave the island country better prepared for next time.