There’s no doubt that demand for electric vehicles (EVs) is skyrocketing. Already over 112,000 plug-in EVs (hybrid and battery) have been sold in 2022. Beyond the benefits this will have on the environment, the trend provides a new opportunity for our energy ecosystem considering that newly developed EVs can be used as a backup power source for the home. However, it’s critically important to understand what using EVs as alternate energy sources means for the wider grid.
With hurricane season approaching and natural gas prices skyrocketing, home resiliency is already a crucial requirement of homeowners. EVs identified and promoted for their home powering capabilities—as seen with the recently released Ford F-150 Lightning—are swiftly growing in popularity as a potential energy source. Yet, consumers are often purchasing these cars without much thought on the potential safety issues, or what using an EV as a generator means at a granular level. What do these smart solutions mean for our energy ecosystem? What immediate steps must be taken to avoid grid failure?
Challenges with preventing power grid issues
Although there are high hopes that internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will be replaced by EVs, their gas-powered generator counterparts still have a role to play in the home resiliency conversation. As many in Texas learned last year, adding a generator to a home electricity plan cannot be an after-thought. Homes must be pre-wired to allow for easy and more importantly safe use of a generator, and roadblocks must be in place to prevent power from streaming back onto the grid.
The truth is that when using renewable energy sources like EVs for power, the installation process is not straightforward. This stems from how homes have traditionally been wired: metaphorically, powering the home was previously a one-way street. As we add more sources of renewable energy (rooftop solar, batteries, and now EVs), that street becomes a highway and more complicated to navigate.
When a home has two or three solutions in play, the system progresses even further and resembles a full-fledged interstate that requires additional (and just as complex) technologies for effective and safe operation. Without these safeguards, there’s a heightened risk of sending power back out to the grid, creating a dangerous situation for all. Line workers have been severely injured and killed due to secondary sources of power not being isolated from the utilities’ electrical grid.
The aspiration to action gap
Despite many complexities and challenges, there’s no doubt we need to give homeowners multiple options for backup or alternate power, especially with ongoing questions around power grid resiliency and society’s growing desire to become more sustainable. However there remains a large aspiration-action gap for sustainable change to happen, especially at the federal level as the US has just begun to acknowledge the need to invest more in its utility infrastructure, with the recent push to modernise and expand capacity of the power grid.
The safest way to use an EV as a backup power source today
Despite slow momentum in this space, there are solutions available that allow homeowners to use their EV as a source of power—they’re just not as simple as we wish they could be. To properly use an EV as a backup generator, disconnecting other electric lines and ensuring one-way flow is not only necessary, it’s crucial. At the consumer level, solutions such as Schneider Electric’s Square D Energy Center are capable of streamlining the required architecture to support bidirectional charging.
Creating long-term solutions
While there are immediate actions consumers can take to safely leverage their new EV’s power, they are only band-aid solutions for the time being. Driving reliable home energy must involve more than just homeowners; governments and suppliers must also play their part. By working in tandem, governments with the power to fund energy infrastructure transformations, suppliers in charge of developing safe renewable solutions, and consumers interested in such technology have the power to make (safe) home energy resiliency the norm. Through this collective effort, interest in energy resiliency will increase along with the necessary funding to make it accessible. Only then will the outages and failures commonly experienced in recent years become less prevalent, and homeowners will be able to live a more energy resilient future.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Brad Wills is Director of Strategic Customers & Programs at Schneider Electric
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