In the event of a power outage, the electric car is more useful than you think

What if the electric car was more useful than you might think in the event of a power outage? Behind this paradox actually hides a two-way charging technology, which can really help in the event of a power failure.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne warned on 1 September 2022 that blackouts could occur this winter due to supply problems. California also faces this shortage of electricity: The grid administrator appeals to the common sense of electric car owners regarding charging their car.

In this context, for critics of electric cars, the announcement of possible power outages makes people cheer and imagine that drivers of electric cars cannot move. They see it as another argument in their favor to refuse to do without their thermal vehicle. But as you can imagine, the reflection is biased.

For some models it is even the opposite. By having a two-way charging function, they can actually help the house by supplying it with the energy of their battery.

Without recharging, electric cars would be useless

Unless you drive 200, 300 or 400 km daily, it is hard to understand the argument of some. Not all electric cars are equal when it comes to range. But statistics show that the French drive an average of less than 50 km per day by car. At this rate, any electric car can last several days without running dry, even in winter.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 V2L charging socket. // Source: Raphaelle Baut for numerama

Apart from climatic disasters that permanently damage the grid, curtailments, load shedding and other restrictions that can be imposed on electricity will concern the day and periods of high grid voltage. The government often encourages to reduce consumption, in the morning between 08.00 and 12.00, as well as in the evening, when it is the peak of 18.00. Nevertheless, electric vehicle owners who charge at home do so primarily at night. A period which is therefore not really threatened by rationing cuts.

Also, when we talk about occasional power outages, it should not be forgotten that gas stations also do not function without electricity, not to mention the refineries, which also consume a lot of it. Thermal vehicles also rely on electricity. If the autonomy of diesel cars is important, for gasoline models it is generally closer to what an equivalent electric car can achieve.

Two-way charging (V2G, V2X, V2L, etc.): what can it be used for in the event of a power outage?

Not all electric cars offer it. It is often even an additional option with the manufacturers in question. But two-way charging makes it possible to use the energy stored in the car battery to connect and power other equipment.

MG5 and its V2L connector. // Source: Raphaelle Baut for Numerama

The electric car is even being developed so that in the near future it can become an integral part of the domestic electricity grid. This is called V2G or vehicle-to-grid. In the event of a voltage drop or outage, the car battery connected to the home grid automatically supplements the home’s needs. It will then recharge when the network is back to normal.

There are several different names with more or less similar functions:

  • V2X or vehicle-to-everything – from vehicle to multiple undefined sources,
  • V2H or vehicle-to-home – from the vehicle to the home,
  • V2B or vehicle-to-building – from the vehicle to a building,
  • V2L or vehicle to load – of vehicle to recharge.

We are not yet able to properly integrate the car into the electrical diagram of a house. V2X or V2L is more generally presented and used as a gadget for many purposes, such as being able to connect: an electric bike, a plancha, a coffee machine or a computer to the socket in the middle of nowhere. An anecdotal feature, but one that turns out to be very handy in certain cases.

On Twitter, it’s a message from a Californian urologist who smiled on September 1st. This clearly shows the possible use of an electric vehicle to assist in the event of a power outage. He was able to provide a service to his patient, despite a power outage, by connecting his equipment to his Rivian.

A little earlier this year we came across the example of an Englishman who found himself without electricity after the Eunice storm. He had been able to connect several electrical devices in his home to his Hyundai Ioniq 5: the fridge, the coffee machine, the internet box and his computer, to continue working and living more or less normally. In any case, the time when the power is restored.

Ford had even made it a communication axis by releasing its Ford Lightning. Anecdotally, this feature could well turn out to be much more useful than we think in the coming years.

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