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Emergency Power From Your Electric Car?

Hurricane Sandy, dubbed the ‘Frankenstorm’ of the decade, is predicted to cause a great deal of property damage in the American Northeast, cutting electric power to millions of customers that could take days or even weeks to restore. Yet for hundreds of thousands of owners of Toyota Priuses and similar electric-drive vehicles, they would be able, if the technology were more widely available, to keep the lights on and a few vital appliances running during the blackout. They’re literally sitting on the answer.

Located under the rear seat of every Toyota Prius is a 1.3kWh battery capable of providing hours of lighting in an emergency, if frugally applied. Cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt could run even longer or handle a even greater electrical loads with their 24kWh and 16kWh battery packs, respectively.

So, why aren’t Volt and Leaf and Prius owners in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York plugging their cars into their homes in preparation for possible power outages in the eye of the storm? Simply put, carmakers aren’t yet offering that capability, at least not here in North America. In Japan, it’s another story.

In the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, emergency personnel discovered that in the decimated prefectures, cars like the little Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car proved invaluable in providing not only mobility but also, in effect, served as mobile battery banks for running communications and medical equipment. Counterintuitively, while drivers could find electric power to recharge their EVs, all of the gasoline stations were out of commission. The ability to respond in an emergency proved so valuable that Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Toyota are either offering options or are working on bringing them to the market that will allow their cars to provide emergency electric power to an owner’s home, or what is referred to as V2H. A new television commercial for the Nissan LEAF in Australia even touts the ability to soon ‘power your home’ with their electric car.


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