How Do You Charge An Electric Car During A Power Outage?


It isn’t uncommon to experience a power outage. Some geographical areas are more subject to outages, especially places that are highly populated. Weather also plays a part as high winds can knock down power lines and extreme cold or hot temperatures cause people to use a lot more energy heating or cooling, which puts a lot of strain on the power grid. When the power goes out, nearly everything gets shut off unless it has battery power. Speaking of which, an electric car needs to be charged often and a power outage gets in the way.

How do you charge an electric car during a power outage? There are several ways to charge an electric car during a power outage. You could charge your EV by using a generator, a large portable power pack, a Tesla Powerwall, or by using solar power if your home is equipped with solar panels. Always keep your electric car charged between 50-80% in case of an emergency.

This article will look into ways to charge your EV when the power is out, how to prepare against those instances, what to do in the moment, and explore the possibility of using the energy from your car as a power source.

Ways To Charge Your Car During A Power Outage

In general, the electricity in our homes and at businesses comes from a common power grid. The grid is primarily supplied by a power plant that runs large generators to create electricity. Some areas have adopted hydroelectric generation and more and more wind farms are popping up across the nation. Likewise, there are large-scale solar farms that supply electricity to cities and homes with the option for homeowners to install solar power systems on their property. 

Homes that don’t have any supplemental power source, while common, are at a disadvantage during a power outage. However, there are a few options to consider that would keep the lights on in the home or, for the sake of this article, be able to charge an EV.

A reliable and practical option is to have a generator. A generator utilizes a small gasoline engine to spin an electric generator. The output voltage a generator produces is 120 volts, which is equivalent to the outlets in your home.

For example, a small Honda generator can output 1000 watts or 1 kilowatt. For an EV to be effectively charged, it needs at least 1-2 kilowatts of power. A small generator would work fine for charging an EV, but it wouldn’t have enough juice to power anything else. A larger generator, one that might put out several kilowatts, would be a better option in case of a power outage. Used generators are typically available on websites like Craigslist or can be purchased new at hardware stores or similar stores.

Next, let’s look at solar power. Solar is becoming more and more popular as technology improves and people take advantage of incentives to install solar power systems in their homes. There are also a lot of different portable solar chargers that are getting better and better. However, there aren’t many handy options for a portable solar charger that could charge an EV. The problem is that the small solar units don’t put out enough electricity. 

Another catch to solar power is that the sun needs to be out in order for it to work. During the summer months when the days are longer and the sun is shining, it usually wouldn’t be an issue to keep the solar power charging. However, if the power goes out in the winter, the solar power system might not be as effective, depending on the area. Winter days are shorter, meaning less sunlight, and are often cloudy which blocks out the sun. If the power goes out in this instance, there isn’t much that solar power can do.

In spite of this, there are options such as the Tesla Powerwall. It’s like having a spare battery for your car and home. During normal conditions, it gets charged from the power grid. In the event of an outage, it’s able to supply power to the home and vehicle. When the charge level gets a bit low, it only supplies power to the home. Should the outage occur or last during the day, a solar panel recharges the battery. The only catch is the healthy price tag of around $35,000 dollars including the system and installation.

How To Prepare For A Power Outage

No one ever really plans on the power going out. There are occasional outages for the power company to perform maintenance, but even then we don’t really think about how to prepare for when the power goes out. Well, at least when it comes to your EV, here are a few things to consider:

  • Charge every day
  • Don’t let it go under half
  • Have a plan ready

Part of the brilliance of owning an electric vehicle is being able to bypass all gas stations. While there are more and more EV charging stations popping up, it is also possible to charge your vehicle at home. All EVs come with a plug and adapter that is compatible with the outlets in your garage or outside your house. Furthermore, there are stage 2 chargers available, such as the Home Charger from Tesla. These charge your vehicle at a higher rate than a regular outlet because they use 220 volts, like what a clothes dryer uses.

With all these options, there should be no excuse to not charge the EV every day. Whenever the vehicle is parked, just plug it in and let it get ready for the next drive. Only charging it when the battery gets low is a recipe for getting stranded somewhere. To bring it back to the point of this article: if you don’t want your EV to be low on charge when the power goes out, charge it regularly when the power is on.

If, for some reason, it is too much of a hassle to charge it daily, then at least keep the battery at least halfway charged. There’s no common “mileage” that all EVs get. The range depends on driving conditions, make/model, and so forth. So a half of a charge equals something different in each case. However, if the power goes out and there is no way to recharge, that half a charge is far more valuable. 

Finally, and perhaps this should be at the top, it is smart to already have a plan ready. Many people may still have a regular vehicle they can use in case of emergency. Regardless, having a way to not only charge your vehicle but also perhaps power some things in a home can be very important in an emergency.

An emergency isn’t the time to start preparing for one. This includes things like owning a generator or having a solar panel system installed. Thinking a little bit ahead will make a lot of difference.

What To Do When Your Power Goes Out

There are different reasons why the power might go out. Commonly, it goes out for the power company to perform services, which usually last a short time. Likewise, the power grid can endure a large draw during extreme weather when people are heating/cooling their homes. This massive draw can cause outages, which again typically don’t last very long. However, power outages can also be caused by severe weather, such as hurricanes, tornados, floods, and so on. In these situations, people usually will react differently than during minor outages. 

In either case, when the power goes out, it’s best to limit the use of an EV. Since charging will be difficult, if not impossible, it’s wisest to save the battery charge for emergencies. If charging is necessary, then the next step would be to fire up the generator or other backup power source to charge the car. Again, this should only be done for emergency purposes since running the generator will not charge the car quickly and that energy could be better used for running lights and appliances in the home.

Finally, if the EV is not charged enough to drive and a backup power source is unavailable, there is always the option of using the traditional combustion engine vehicle. If that’s not an option either, the last options are to either get help from a neighbor or to walk. 

Can You Use A Car As a Power Source?

With all this talk about how to keep your vehicle charged and ready in case of an outage, we might be wondering if that big battery in the car can be used as a power source to power a home. In theory, it is possible to do this, and the Ford F-150 Lightning will be the first vehicle to try this. The high-voltage system in an electric vehicle has plenty of voltage to power anything in a home and, depending on usage, could have quite the capacity.

However, this is mostly just theoretical since the Lightning is still in its infancy. Other EV manufacturers besides Ford have not put much stock into developing a backward-compatible system. They design vehicles to operate like vehicles, generally speaking. After Ford, Tesla has the most promise to break the mold and offer such a system. 

There are also some aftermarket companies offering such options. One example is a company called Dcbel. Their system includes solar panels to charge an EV and serve as a backup power system for the home. With certain models, it offers bi-directional charging. Currently, it seems that only a Nissan Leaf is the model that can be used as a home battery with a few other makes/models exploring this possibility, such as the Kia EV6 and any Volkswagen EV models.

So, to circle back, bi-directional charging is pretty rare, but since the F-150 Lightning is sound, it shouldn’t be long before such systems become more and more common.

Conclusion

While EVs don’t need a gas station, they do need to be charged up, which is easily done at home. If the power happens to go out, it’s best to conserve that battery charge for emergencies. It is wise to have a backup power source to charge the vehicle in an emergency. Someday soon it will be common to use an EV as a big battery in case of emergency and could really contribute to getting through emergency situations.

Recent Posts