I was at a big box store recently, where a pleasant enough guy offered to help me load my purchases into my Tesla Model Y. “I would never own an electric car,” he said. . “I don’t want to get stuck on the freeway if there’s a storm.” Here in Florida, storms are quite frequent, so there are plenty of people with similar concerns.
Last year, after severe weather caused part of Interstate 95 to be closed, articles appeared in the Washington Post depicting the horror of freezing to death in an electric car after the battery runs out. This was big news and it got a lot of reactions from people, especially here at Clean Technica.
Let’s get a few things clear. Whether you drive a combustion engine vehicle that can go 600 miles on a full tank, it goes without saying that you can drive further than someone who has an electric car with half the range – assuming, of course, that you start your trip with a full tank. In fact, very few people ride like that on a regular basis. And if there really is an emergency, everyone will be lining up at the gas station, so it’s not like you can just walk to the nearest Gas ‘N’ Go and walk out 5 more minutes late.
If you’re on the highway and stuck in traffic, an electric car uses very little power, while a gas-powered motorcycle sucks in gas every second. An electric vehicle can use heated seats to alleviate the cold, while a conventional car must run the engine to produce heat. Demand for gasoline on the highway can cause rest areas to run out and if traffic is congested, tankers won’t be able to get there to refuel. Plus, too, and also, when the electricity goes out, those gas pumps stop working – just like EV chargers, of course.
The upshot is that fleeing to safety in an emergency can be a traumatic experience, no matter what car or truck you’re driving. One of the benefits of electric car owners is that they can plug into the house before a storm hits so they have as much battery power as possible when needed. You can’t fill your tank in your garage, so there you have it.
When an electric car is more than just a car
Bloomberg This Weekend tells the story of Westley and Sarah Ferguson from Haines City in Central Florida. After losing power during Hurricane Ian, Westley says he ran two extension cords through their home from outlets built into his Ford F-150 Lightning. He plugged the fridge into one and a power strip into the second, which he used to run lights, a fan and a TV.
The Fergusons didn’t set up their home to allow the truck to be an emergency power source, but the arrangement was enough for him and his wife to cook beef stew on an electric stove and host another couple. neighborhood for an impromptu movie night. “There was nowhere for us to go,” says Westley, a 33-year-old web designer. “So we just stayed home.”
The Fergusons didn’t have hurricanes in mind when they ordered their Ford F-150 Lightning in May 2021. “Nothing in our market research indicates that emergency preparedness is a notable reason to buy in the market electric vehicles,” said Mark Schirmer of Cox Automotive. Bloomberg. “Consumers primarily prioritize price, monthly payment, range and style.”
Backup power for electric vehicles is still useful, however. The night before Ian landed, Christine Cannella plugged her Rivian R1T pickup into the charger at her gated community in Fort Myers, Florida to recharge its battery. When Ian arrived, Cannella’s house was out of power for five days. So she used the R1T sockets on board to make coffee and cook hot dogs on an electric grill for her and her son.
When the house got too humid, Cannella and her cockapoo pup slept in the backseat with the air conditioner running on “pet comfort” mode. “I am not a camper. I’m not an outdoors person,” she says. “But it became a tremendous benefit to me and my family during those 48 hours.”
Last year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection awarded Blink a contract to install dozens of chargers at strategic locations along evacuation routes, which is great news for drivers of electric cars as long as there is electricity available to power these chargers. As buses and other public vehicles also become electrified, two-way charging could be used to power shelters and emergency services, or even help sustain failing grids.
Nature doesn’t care what you drive. Roads can be washed away. Wires can be down for days or even weeks. Traffic jams can block escape routes so a trip that usually takes an hour can take a day or more. There really is no point in being smug and rejecting one type of vehicle or another. If you drive a Nissan LEAF, you might have good reason to envy the guy next to you with the big pickup truck and saddle tanks that let him go 1,000 miles at once without refueling.
All we can say is that things are changing. More and more electric cars have sockets allowing certain accessories to be powered by the battery. The idea of using an electric car’s battery to power an entire house as a backup generator is getting a lot of people’s attention. Yes, it can be expensive to install the inverters and transfer switches that allow a residence to isolate itself from the power grid, but no more so than for a gasoline or diesel standby generator.
The electric car, coupled with more rooftop solar systems, is changing the paradigm of getting all the electricity from a utility company to make more of it ourselves and use it right at home. This is all part of the transition to the distributed renewable energy model that is likely to become the norm for many over the next 5-10 years. The question may soon become not why own an electric car in a weather emergency, but rather why not?
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