The planned power outages of 2019 to prevent wildfires in Northern California highlighted a critical issue for electric vehicle (EV) owners. An unstable power grid makes it difficult to charge vehicles. Given that nearly half of U.S. EVs are in California, the issue gained widespread attention.
EVs have been criticized for not being resilient during power outages but many gas stations cannot operate either. Gas pumps rely on electricity and only gas stations with generators are operational in grid outages. Having a vehicle run out of gas or charge is especially daunting when there is a risk of wildfires or other natural disasters and evacuation could be necessary.
Addressing EV Charging Concerns
Tesla was very responsive to the power needs of EV owners during the October 2019 outages. It even sent an in-car alert to charge vehicles before the outages took effect. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla tweeted in October, “All Tesla Supercharger stations in regions affected by California power outages will have Tesla Powerpacks within the next few weeks.” High-performance battery systems, Tesla Powerpacks can provide electricity for off-grid and supplemental power.
Musk created a goal three years ago to have clean energy available at Superchargers 24/7. Tesla recently launched new V3 Superchargers with solar power arrays and Powerpacks for energy storage. This allows EV users to charge independently of grid outages and reduces reliance on electricity from more polluting sources.
Other advances in EV technology make reliance on electricity less daunting. According to Audi, most EV owners only drive 48 miles per day and have sufficient charge afterward, in case of a blackout. As the range of these vehicles increases due to advances in batteries, cars don’t need to be charged as frequently.
In addition, the Tela V3 Superchargers address the speed of charging. Vehicles can recover 75 miles of charge in just 5 minutes.
Rising Number of Power Outages
Unfortunately, power outages have been on the rise in the last decade in the United States. In 2019, 35 million people were affected, compared to 13.5 million a decade prior. Due to an old power grid and extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change, this trend is likely to continue.
“Communities are increasingly experiencing multiple hazards almost simultaneously, such as Florida’s triple whammy in the last six months from record-high temperatures, abnormally toxic algal blooms, and the house-flattening winds of Hurricane Michael,” said Bernadette Woods Placky, Climate Central’s chief meteorologist. “This report shows that multiple compounding hazards will increasingly hit much of the U.S. in the years ahead.”
Although many of the late 2019 power outages were planned, many outages are not. Intense hurricanes, storms, droughts, wildfires, and floods are all associated with climate change and can cause power outages. As the transportation sector electrifies, grid outages will be an important hurdle to overcome.
In general, as the grid becomes less reliable, our systems need to become more resilient to avoid numerous issues.
Using EV Batteries for Backup Power
There is a huge potential to use EV batteries to power emergency loads during power outages.
“Medical professionals at an evacuation center were the first ones who approached us about possibly using them as backup batteries for heating and other purposes,” recalled Ryusuke Hayashi, Nissan’s senior manager of EV operations. “That experience triggered Nissan to accelerate development that enables EVs to share the energy stored in their batteries with homes, buildings, and communities.”
Vehicle-to-grid capabilities are promising and are being developed by several automakers. The Nissan Leaf has a 40 kW or 62 kW battery, which can store a considerable amount of power. The average home uses about 29 kWh of electricity a day, thus an EV could power a home for more than a day without implementing efficiency measures or prioritizing loads. By comparison, the Tesla Powerwall has a 13.2 kW battery capacity for its home energy storage systems. The battery storage capabilities of EVs could help mitigate the impacts of power outages by powering critical loads.
The original Tesla Roadster had this capability but it was removed from later models. There is talk that Tesla might bring the feature back. Mitsubishi hopes to add a system for bi-directional power flow between your car and home soon, but it could have a steep price tag.
EVs Changing How the Electrical Grid Works?
EVs offer a practical way to change the way the grid works, reducing energy storage capabilities and decreasing the need to construct new power plants. If EVs charge when overall power demand is low and supply power during times of peak use, the grid will experience less significant peaks and dips in supply and demand, decrease emissions, and promote energy efficiency.
This post was originally published on March 2, 2020.