In the face of PG&E’s power shutoffs, the drivers of the 655,000 electric vehicles in California (and the millions who are considering going electric) are asking, “Can I get by with an electric vehicle (EV) in a power outage?” The answer is yes in the short term, and emphatically yes in the medium to long term. The nonprofit Coltura explains how:
During the current power shutoffs, follow these two rules of thumb:
1. Keep your car fully charged: If you usually charge your car to 80%, charge it to 100%.
2. Know where you can find public charging: Tesla drivers received a notification and reminder to charge up before the PG&E blackouts.
Going forward, here’s what EV drivers need to know to stay mobile in a power outage:
1. Most EVs now have ranges of 220 miles or more. The average commute in California is about 40 miles, so a full charge should last 5 days. If that’s not sufficient to ride out a power shutdown, a home battery storage unit such as a Tesla Powerwall can give another 40 miles of charge, and can be recharged with rooftop solar panels to create a personal microgrid.
2. Wherever there’s solar power, there’s fuel for electric vehicles. Companies like Envision Solar and Paired Power offer solar canopies that can charge vehicles from the sun, even when the power is out.
3. Automakers and public charging stations can help too. Tesla is future-proofing its public charging stations by deploying Tesla Powerpacks (stationary battery storage packs) at its Supercharger locations and adding solar panels.
4. Mobile batteries are available in a pinch. Freewire’s Mobi system, a giant mobile battery box on wheels comprised of used Tesla batteries, can travel from car to car and give each a charge.
In the long term, changes to the grid will limit the extent and duration of power shutdowns, and enable EVs to access charging.
1. For instance, with grid sectionalizing, a smaller, more focused portion of the grid can be taken down. PG&E has installed 160 sectionalizing devices since last year, enabling outages to be restricted to one area while power is restored to adjacent areas.
2. Creating community microgrids is the most promising long-term solution. Community microgrids provide a system of clean power supply and battery storage across a small area. They avoid the need for dirty diesel generators, which can cause deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, as occurred during Hurricane Sandy. In a power shutdown, renewable sources can be used indefinitely to serve critical community needs, including EV charging.
3. Finally, bi-directional, or vehicle-to-grid (V2G) EV charging technology is already viable. (To convert your EV for bidirectional use today, watch this video.) This allows electric vehicles to give back the excess power in their batteries when it’s needed elsewhere. It could mean that, for instance, electric school buses could share the power from their massive batteries in a community microgrid to charge other electric vehicles that have a greater need for the power.
So keep your EV, or go ahead and get one. You’ll save money on fueling and maintenance, decrease air pollution and greenhouse gases, and still be mobile – even in a power shutdown.