A new job for electric vehicles: powering homes during blackouts

A new job for electric vehicles: powering homes during blackouts

In early March, high winds downed trees and power lines in the Nashville area, leaving thousands of homes without power. But about 20 miles outside the city, an electric pickup truck powers John and Rachel Regard’s home, keeping the lights on.

“You can look at all the houses around us, and they’re all closed,” said Mr. Regard, who bought a pickup called the Ford F-150 Lightning more than a year ago. “Many people ask the question: ‘How do you have power?'”

The Regards are part of a small group of pioneers using the batteries in their electric vehicles as a source of backup power for their homes. Energy and auto experts expect many more people to do the same in the coming years as auto and energy companies make it easier for people and businesses to use the energy in electric cars more than driving.

Electric grids are increasingly stressed and faltering during extreme weather linked to climate change, including prolonged heat waves, intense storms and devastating floods. Many people have purchased generators or home solar power and battery systems, often at very high cost.

For some people, electric vehicles are a better option because they can perform multiple functions. Another big advantage: The battery in the F-150 Lightning or the electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup, which is expected to go on sale this year, can store much more energy than the household batteries sometimes installed with solar panels on the roof. are done. Combine an electric truck with a home solar system, and the thinking is that a family could have the lights on for days or even weeks.

The use of electric vehicles as a power source has irked electric utility executives, including Pedro Pizarro, who heads the board of the Edison Electric Institute, the industry’s main trade organization, and is chief executive of Edison International, which Provides electricity to millions of people. of homes and businesses in Southern California.

Mr. Pizarro’s company and other utilities are testing whether sending power from electric vehicles to the grid is practical and safe.

By absorbing electricity in abundance and releasing it when it is scarce, electric vehicles, he said, “act as a big rubber band to absorb shocks and manage them from day to day and week to week.” Can.”

Greater use of electric vehicles in this way should allow utilities and homeowners to reduce planet-warming emissions by relying more heavily on renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind that provide intermittent power.

Right now, some electric vehicles can provide backup power. but on the officers TeslaThe major electric car company and other automakers have said they are working on an update that will enable many more cars to do the same.

When the power goes out in the Regards’ neighborhood in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, their truck supplies enough electricity to keep the lights on, run four refrigerators, and a fan in a natural-gas-fueled heating system. The truck does not keep its air conditioning on, but other essentials come on within minutes after the fault begins.

When the family lost power around Christmas, Ms. Regard’s parents, who were visiting her, became worried because it was so cold outside. “They started thinking, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening?'” Mr. Regard said. His response: “Nothing is happening. We’ll be fine.”

The couple were so pleased with their truck that they bought 10 more for their business, Grade A Construction. He estimates that the investment is saving him about $300 per month per vehicle because the cost of driving on electricity is less per mile than burning gasoline.

While the trucks reduce operating costs, equipping Regard’s home with electrical equipment required hiring experts and spending thousands of dollars to get it powered from the F-150. The couple tapped Qmerit, a company that manages the development, installation and maintenance of electric vehicles, storage and vehicle-to-home energy systems.

A handful of components relay information between the truck and the home’s electrical system, appliances and lights. Once set up with the homeowner’s preferences, the system decides when the truck charges its battery and sends power to the home.

But such systems can be complex, and some early adopters have encountered problems.

Kevin Dyer, a software quality engineer who lives near Los Angeles, has used electric vehicles since 2009 and bought an F-150 Lightning in September. He wanted the truck to help his family out of the blackouts that have become common in California in recent years.

“We have completed the installation,” said Mr. Dyer. “The truck actually drove past my house. It was a high-five moment. That’s when things kind of went haywire. It basically works, then turns off.”

Mr Dyer, 59, said he hoped a software update or other minor fix would solve the problem.

Energy officials said the industry is working to improve and simplify the technology to connect electric cars to homes, which they said will happen within a few years.

Over time, more people will be able to easily combine solar panels, home batteries and electric vehicles, said Oliver Phillips, chief operating officer of Qmerit. Overall, these devices will make people “bulletproof” against power cuts, he said.

Battery-powered vehicles could eventually play an even bigger role by providing energy to the grid when electricity demand exceeds supply, said Gus Puga, owner of Airstream Services, an electrical, heating and cooling company that partnered with Qmerit. Worked with him to set up the system. Home of Regards.

Some energy experts worry that the growth of electric cars could lead to a huge increase in energy demand, putting pressure on the grid. Mr Puga disagrees: “I believe we are going to add stability to the grid.”

In the auto industry, some experts warn that using cars repeatedly to power homes or the grid can wear down batteries faster, reducing range – the distance a vehicle can travel on a full charge. can decide. But automakers have downplayed those risks.

Ford and General Motors are keen to market the versatility of their battery-powered models to people who are faced with power cuts or fear blackouts.

“It really is a game-changer,” said Ryan O’Gorman, Ford’s business development energy services manager. “The truck is a huge power source. EVs are large and can power a home for several days.

Mark Boley, head of energy connectivity and battery solutions at GM, said the company plans to offer a package of tools and services to help customers get the most out of their electric vehicle. “What we consider absolutely critical is to make it simple and affordable for the customer,” he added.

But Mr. Pizarro, a utility executive, cautioned that energy and auto companies still need to refine the technology that allows cars to send electricity to homes and to the grid. He expects more problems to be identified as more people start using electric vehicles for backup power.

“It is early days,” Mr. Pizarro said. “Would be surprised.”

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