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Vehicle Power Out

PlugOut inverter with Randy’s car. Courtesy photo.

Randy Bryan

New Hampshire is not immune to power outages. Everyone knows a tale or two about outages and their effect on lives. While generator solutions abound, everyone also knows a tale or two about generators that won’t start or require too much maintenance. Our topic here is about solutions using hybrid or plugin vehicles.  My business is ConVerdant, now PlugOut Power, and due to that background I have followed ‘vehicle power out’ technologies for many years, namely Vehicle to Grid (V2G), Vehicle to Home (V2H) and Vehicle to anything (V2X) technologies. Basically, this means using the hybrid or plug-in vehicle (HV battery and inverter) as an energy storage appliance for accepting and supplying power for various uses. This is one of those new side benefits to shifting to electric drive from fuel-combustion drive. Vehicle charging is well known, but vehicle discharging is not so well understood. We’ll focus on vehicle discharging here.

There are two types of implementation possible, similar to solar inverters, grid-tied and off-grid. There are a variety of issues germane to this difference; synchronization to and connection with the grid are most important.

A grid-tied inverter allows the vehicle to give off power to the home or property while connected to the grid. This is useful for offsetting power as desired to normal grid power feeds. While useful to control power bills, the technology requires coordination with utilities in ways they are not used to providing (net metering, but not for solar). Unfortunately, grid-tied solutions are having difficulty catching on due to issues with grid operators, rate systems and billing procedures. But make no mistake, this market is coming.

A vehicle off-grid inverter must give off power to its own island of appliances (home and worksite, not connected to the grid). Off-grid inverters work similarly to generators, making power for local appliances. In fact, the home and appliance connection interfaces are similar to those for generators. To be used in a home and business, the off-grid power source must be isolated from the grid by a ‘transfer switch’ which will only allow power feeds from the grid or the generator.

A vehicle’s 12-volt system (alternators and 12v battery) are great for providing incidental off-grid power (< 1kW, usually < 400W) for car accessories but are ill suited to providing more power for driving, home or worksite uses. Getting more power off the engine is certainly possible (Power Take-Off on trucks), but quite expensive and inefficient.

Hybrid and plug-in vehicles, on the other hand, are designed and built as incredibly reliable, powerful and efficient DC storage and generators needing only an inverter to provide AC power compatible with the grid and home appliances.

A few car makers are finally offering this technology as bait for their new and coming electric vehicles. My company (ConVerdant, now PlugOut Power) was an early entrant, offering this capability as an aftermarket inverter product on Prius (now almost any Toyota and Lexus hybrid), it is very popular with the knowledgeable few. But a small marketing budget ruled out any major PR. Nissan, Toyota and Honda developed small (1.5kW) inverters as an option for the Japanese market only in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and widespread power outages.

Going forward, I am delighted to see the concept finally catching the public’s attention as large manufacturers start offering this capability on electric vehicles with larger PR budgets. Rivian started the trend by advertising their upcoming trucks in a camping scene with electric camping appliances (off-grid). Then Ford publicized their plugin hybrid F150 trucks providing power to homes during the recent Texas freeze. (These were off-grid, actually loaned to a few customers in a corporate PR push.) Now, Ford has gone all-in by publicizing their future Lightning F150 all-electric trucks as off-grid and grid-tied ready. Volkswagen recently announced all their future electric vehicles will be off-grid and grid-tied ready, too. In fact, all the major vehicle manufacturers have experimented with V2H and V2G technologies, even to the public trial phase, though no capabilities announced.

Still, using the electric vehicle as an off-grid energy appliance is an attractive concept and catching on. Off-grid power itself is useful; home power backup, campers, remote worksites, tailgating, and off-grid events like field gatherings. Vehicles plus inverters offering from 3-10kW of AC power out are useful in most situations. The benefits to using the vehicle plus inverter for power instead of a generator are many:  quiet, clean power, always starts, no maintenance, fewer and safer recharging requirements, and up to twice the electricity per gallon (hybrid use). When the grid goes down, use your vehicle to power your home. Make power where generators are forbidden like campgrounds, trailer parks, condominium and townhome properties, or anywhere the noise is not appreciated (field music events). Make power where fires are not allowed or practical, like camping in dry forests (now much of the western U.S.) or desert areas where there are no trees. Some use the technology to charge their urban e-scooter rental business or to power food service vehicles or to keep battery-powered landscaping equipment charged.

In my own NH experience, getting the car set up for power out is more convenient and less troublesome than using a generator. Knowing it will work when needed is even better.

Randy Bryan is one of the co-founders of Drive Electric NH. Bryan has been an advocate for electric cars since 2006. His company, PlugOut Power (formerly ConVerdant Vehicles), has converted vehicles to plug-in hybrids and currently develops and sells inverters that turn electrified cars into mobile generators.

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