Now is the time for car manufacturers to step up and help California mitigate the effects of wildfires and earthquakes (1).

A “new normal day” in a Californian’s life Autumn 2019.

Last Friday we received a call from our electricity provider Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E). They told us that they would cut the power to the area where we live outside San Francisco because of high wind and dangerous fire conditions. It turned out that we were not alone – all in all they cut the power to almost 1 million customers affecting almost 3 million people that may be without power for 1 to ? days. This happens to prevent wildfires and is part of the PSPS system (Public Safety Power Shutoff).

So our family convened to prepare: Make sure that all cell phones and the EV is fully charged, buy enough water and non-perishable food to last a week without power, start using the contents of our fridge and freezers to limit the amount of food that we have to throw away, make sure we have all our flashlights, what should we do about our son’s school, what about our teleconferences for work from home etc. etc.

In the end we did not end up losing power, but we got a preview of what it would be if we had lost power.

And this was a “good” scenario where the power cut was planned. What about a big earthquake that is certainly not planned?

We started to think about how we could cope with future power shutoffs. Since we have a 75kWh Tesla in the garage it was obvious that would be a good place to start. Our Tesla would easily be able to supply our house with emergency power for 5-7 days. 

Now I have worked in the E-Mobility/Vehicle-Grid-Integration (VGI) field for almost a decade and am aware that there are two type of EVs.

The uni-directional power EV that can only charge. The energy charged can only be used for transport.

The other type of vehicle is the bi-directional power EV. This vehicle is capable of charging the vehicle battery, but the energy in the battery can be used for more purposes like: transport, emergency power, cutting the electricity bill and supporting the electric grid.

Since a vehicle is typically only used for 2-3 hours a day for transport and needs a relative short time to charge it would be obvious to use the remaining time for something that could bring value to the owner of the car like emergency power. 

My Tesla does not provide the capability of powering my home as is also the case with most EVs sold today. Only the Japanese car manufacturers Nissan and Mitsubishi provide this capability in their series EVs, and this was a result of the lessons learned during the great earthquake and following tsunami in 2011.

So, if an EV could provide critical emergency power for families and communities to cope with the effects of a PSPS wildfire situation in California,

why have not more car manufacturers introduced bi-directionality (V2G) in their EVs?

The typical concerns mentioned by the car manufacturers are:

  • added cost 
  • added volume 
  • added weight
  • potential battery wear

We will explore these issues in the next blog – stay tuned.