Using an EV to Power a Home

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Over 8 million people were left without electricity in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and last summer’s derecho storm left many without power for a week or more. Some resourceful electric vehicle owners in the DC area have figured out how to use the big battery in their cars for emergency power. Television station WUSA, channel 9 in Washington, DC did a story on EVA/DC member Doron Shalvi who used his Nissan Leaf to power his refrigerator when the lights went out at his house during Sandy.

This could have been you, and it is something to think about when you shop for your next car.  Could an EV or a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) fulfill your needs, stroke your desires and enhance your shelter requirements — all at the same time?  The answer, of course, is “Yes!”   Whether it is the next power outage — and there WILL be a “next power outage” —  rising prices at the pump, concerns about America’s energy security and/or a strong desire to contribute to the planet, EVs and PHEVs offer advantages that are unmatched by internal combustion vehicles or even by non-plug-in hybrids.

“Well, couldn’t I just put an inverter on any car and have the same advantage?” you might ask. You could, but it wouldn’t work nearly as well, as Doron Shalvi points out.  And you might have to leave your ICE vehicle idling for days at a time until the power came back on — something that you definitely would not want to do in an enclosed garage.

Would you like to learn more?  Why not attend the next meeting of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, D.C. and meet friendly people who have “been there, done that,” and are delighted to share what they know! EVA/DC member Scott Wilson will give a live demonstration of one of these EV inverter systems at the November meeting. He plans to brew us some coffee from the power coming off of his Nissan Leaf. We will also have pizza and soft drinks.

The public is invited to all EVA/DC meetings which are usually held at the Silver Spring Library on the third Wednesday of each month. See our Meetings page for map and details.

10 thoughts on “Using an EV to Power a Home

  1. This is a great example of the ingenuity of members of the EV community demonstrating that electric vehicles can indeed do more than gas powered cars, sometimes in unexpected ways. It is ironic that there are long lines for gas in some parts of New York and New Jersey because there is no electricity to run the pumps after Sandy swept through.

  2. Can someone give a more detailed explanation on how the inverter taps the power from the traction battery through the 12 volt battery/system? I think this would be very helpful.

  3. In response to Mark, the inverter (and not just any inverter, mind you, but an appropriately-sized pure sinewave inverter) taps power from the 12 volt battery which in turn receives power from the EV’s DC-to-DC converter, a built-in device that steps down the power from the main 300+ volt battery pack to about 13 volts, to keep the 12 volt battery fully-charged. The DC-DC, however, only operates when the ignition is turned on. Therefore, the ignition must be turned on in order to provide sustained power to your inverter. There are generally one or two AC outlets built into the inverter, allowing you to plug in an extension cord to your refrigerator and possibly a coffee maker. Alternatively, you might power a fish tank or sump pump, provided that you do not exceed the continuous (not “peak”) wattage rating of your inverter. A 2,000 watt inverter, for example, typically has a continuous rating of 1,000 watts.

    **A few words word of caution, however: (1) Always follow the instructions that came with the inverter, and (2) when installing an inverter for the first time, it must be connected in such a way as to *avoid sparks* at the 12 volt battery terminals, which could ignite hydrogen gas seeping from the battery caps.

    If any of this information seems unclear at this point, I am either doing a poor job explaining it, or else you need to turn to someone who has already done this, such as a member of EVA/DC who is already using an inverter. If you read this in time, we will have a live demonstration with Q&A at our November 21st, 7 pm EVA/DC meeting at the Silver Spring, MD Library. It is free and open to the public.

  4. Nissan has a vehicle to home system for the Leaf called the Nissan PowerStation available in Japan (and I think Canada?). Not yet in U.S., but Sandy is a great opportunity to demonstrate V2H potential of EV (and to promote EV)

    • Good point, Christine. Nissan is still studying the possibility of offering the PowerStation in the U.S., but there are some major hurtles:

      1. The Nissan PowerStation, which is both a high-powered EV charger and a home powering device (like a generator,) is roughly the size of an outdoor air conditioning condensor. It may or may not fit in, or in front of, some garages where the charging station would normally go.

      2. It is designed to meet the power needs of a typical Japanese household for two days. But American homes use 2 to 3 times as much energy. Will US buyers “dial back” in an emergency? Or will they be satisfied with less than a day’s worth of emergency power?

      3. The PowerStation costs $6K in Japan. Will US buyers be willing to pay that premium for faster EV charging plus a day or two of emergency power? Perhaps if Nissan offers a 6 year financing package . . .?

      By comparison, the “EVA/DC” inverter system offers only enough power to maintain your refrigerator and perhaps a coffeemaker and cellphone charger for 3 – 4 days. But it only costs about $300. A small but cost-effective step in the right direction. Wouldn’t you agree?

  5. Dave Goldstein explained it well. The power inverter is a device used on boats and RV’s to power devices from a battery, rather than having to plug into the grid. The way the Leaf (and others probably) works is that the big battery (traction battery) used to propel the car also charges a standard 12 V battery, which is used for the radio, wipers, etc. In a gas car, this is done by running a small generator called an alternator, off of the engine, and the alternator charges the 12V. The Leaf takes current from the traction battery into a DC/DC converter, which then sends the stepped down current to the battery. The Leaf traction battery is 480V. The computer will send whatever current, up to a limit, it needs from the traction battery to the 12V to keep it charged, while you’re driving. What we’re doing is adding the power inverter to the load the DC/DC and computer sees. Now the DC/DC converter is supplying current both to the 12 V battery, as normal, and the inverter. The car is parked and on. You can then run a typical refrigerator like mine in my kitchen for 3-4 days.

    This isn’t an ideal system, since the car does use power when it’s on, but it’s good in a 3-4 day incident, like Sandy or the derecho. It would be better to have a OEM inverter that plugged into the charging port directly. Maybe if there is enough interest, Nissan may offer one.

  6. Kudos, 1st of all. Now, any concern over the threat or possibility of voiding the car’s warranty? I certainly wouldn’t tell my Nissan service guy I did this, regardless of how benign it might appear. No need giving them ammunition if a future problem arose. Aside from the “spark” issue mentioned, the choice of gear, down to even the 150 amp in-line circuit breaker, looks high-grade. Regarding the breaker, doesn’t the inverter have its own protection that is up to the task? Maybe not enough? Thanks for posting.

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