Honda has undertaken numerous initiatives to create energy in a way that is useful to society, including by developing the CVCC engine, hosting the Soichiro Honda Cup Honda Econopower Race, participating in solar car races, developing hybrid vehicles, and developing natural gas-powered generators as part of an effort to make it easier and less expensive to utilize energy. We at Honda are always thinking about efficient energy management, and these technologies are beginning to see use in customers' homes today.
Honda terms the creation and consumption of lifestyle energy at home in the form of heat and electricity, including its use in mobility, “home production for home consumption.” We acknowledge the social expectation that people should be able to secure energy and mobility themselves in the event of a natural disaster. In order to deliver the ability to supply energy management technologies that play a useful role in customers' lives not only in everyday life, but also in times of emergency, we began a series of trials of the Honda Smart Home System, which provides comprehensive control over energy supply and demand in the home, in April 2012. These tests are being conducted at a prototype house in the city of Saitama in Saitama Prefecture that implements new value provided by Honda. We entered into an agreement to participate in the city's E-KIZUNA Project in May 2011, and plans call for this trial to be conducted as part of the project until 2018.
The Honda Smart Home System being used in the prototype house consists of CIGS thin-film solar panels, a home battery unit, household gas-engine cogeneration unit, hot-water supply system, and the Smart e Mix Manager. The Smart e Mix Manager serves as the core of the system for controlling each energy device and its power input or output. In addition to facilitating the exchange of energy information, this unit allows users to select an energy-saving mode that looks up electricity and gas rates online and provides functionality for giving priority to reducing CO2 emissions in system operation. Additionally, the system can be controlled with vehicle navigation systems and smartphones via the Honda internavi.
Power from various energy devices can also be supplied to EVs and plug-in hybrids through the Smart e Mix Manager. What's more, the system networks cars, houses, society, and energy by working in conjunction with the Honda internavi. Specifically, capabilities include offering peace of mind by providing notification of visitors to the home and a new level of comfort and convenience by allowing remote operation of household appliances.
The system combines solar panels and a household gas-engine cogeneration unit in an optimal manner to deliver energy management not only for everyday life, but also during power outages and natural disasters. We are also developing and testing a self-starting household gas-engine cogeneration unit. The expanding range of possibilities includes allowing EVs, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell electric vehicles, and other vehicles to supply electricity to the house. Honda will continue to explore new potential in the spirit of its founder's exhortation, "Be Someone who tries things."
After making a series of improvements to the compact household cogeneration unit that was announced in 2002, Honda began supplying a new core unit in the household cogeneration system in May 2011. This household cogeneration unit generates electricity with a natural gas-powered engine while using waste heat from the engine to heat water.
The most remarkable characteristic of the system is the high rate at which it is able to utilize primary energy (natural gas)—in other words, its ability to efficiently transform fuel into energy. For example, thermal power plants are only able to generate commercial power at an energy utilization rate of approximately 40 percent*1. By contrast, a household cogeneration system ECOWILL*2 using the MCHP1.0K2 core unit developed by Honda reaches the overwhelmingly high utilization rate of 92 percent*3 (power generation efficiency: 26.3 percent; heat generation efficiency: 65.7 percent) by using recovered heat from the engine while generating 1 kilowatt of electricity. The model also offers improved quietness thanks to design features that limit engine noise and vibration. Honda incorporated sound-insulating technology used in automobile development to achieve noise values on par with a household air conditioner outdoor unit. The starting mechanism delivers smooth engine starts in a lightweight, compact design.
In addition to saving resources and lowering CO2 emissions, the ability to use fuel efficiently helps customers cut down on the cost of heating and powering their home. With each passing day, This household cogeneration units are becoming a more viable and realistic choice for homeowners reviewing their energy use.
Honda's cogeneration system received the 2011 Technology Grand Prize from the Japan Gas Association (announced in March and presented on June 14) and the COGEN Annual Award in the Technology/Innovation category at COGEN Europe (presented in Brussels on May 3).
*1: Lower heating value (LHV) standard; from Japan Gas Association data.
*2: EcoWill is a registered trademark of Osaka Gas Co., Ltd.
*3: With a MCHP1.0K2 LLC hot water temperature of 75℃; lower heating value (LHV) standard.
The gas-powered household cogeneration unit's new generating unit uses EXlink*4, a newly developed, multi-link, high-expansion-ratio engine to dramatically boost performance. High-expansion-ratio engines (also known as Atkinson cycle engines) have an expansion ratio that is higher than their compression ratio, allowing them to develop energy from fuel more efficiently. In research to increase the efficiency of engines for our power products, we had been working to develop a more compact design in which the length of the piston stroke can vary. Through a trial-and-error process, this research and development effort led to the creation of a proprietary multi-link mechanism, resulting in a compact design that could be mass-produced: the world's first Atkinson cycle engine with a multi-link mechanism.
By augmenting the fuel efficiency made possible by the new EXlink engine with further efficiency gains from Honda's proprietary sine wave inverter generating technology, we increased the level of efficiency at which electricity is generated from primary energy from 22.5 percent in previous models to 26.3 percent in the new design. We also improved the thermal energy utilization rate from 63.0 percent to 65.7 percent. Thanks to these enhancements, customers can cut their heating and electricity costs by about 50,000 yen*5 per year when using the system in combination with a heating/hot water unit. As compared to a household using electricity generated via thermal power generation and a water heater burning natural gas, Honda's new system reduces CO2 emissions by about 39 percent.
By pursuing a lightweight, compact design for EXlink, for example by being able to use smaller intake parts due to the engine's low intake volume, we have been able to deliver the world's smallest cogeneration unit (as of March 31, 2011; according to Honda research).With a footprint of just 1.6 square meters and a weight of just 11 kilograms, the system can be installed even in confined spaces, allowing it to be used in a larger range of homes. Features such as low noise and vibration levels on par with those of a household air conditioner outdoor unit and a maintenance interval of 6,000 hours or about three years make the system affordable for many homes.
*4: A Honda trademark meaning "Extended Expansion Linkage Engine."
*5: Compared to a heater and hot water heater using electricity from a thermal power plant and natural gas (13A); data from a natural gas provider.