Portable Power

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Heated seats? Check. Adaptive cruise control? Check. Bidirectional charging capability? Check. That last option, available on some electric vehicles, goes far beyond the creature comforts made for the road. This one can actually power your home.

“The technology that comes with electric vehicles really is remarkable, and we’re just beginning to see the possibilities that can be, in some cases, even life-saving,” said Nate Boettcher, president and CEO of Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services.

Ellsworth Ambulance Service recently contracted with the co-op’s SwiftCurrent Connect’s electrician services to install a Generac natural gas-powered standby generator for its ambulance building. David Chavie, Pierce Pepin’s energy innovation and operational technology manager, said they had to cut the power to install the transfer switch for the new generator, so they decided to use the co-op’s Ford F150 Lightning to power the building’s essentials like lights, heating, and garage doors, during the interim.

“They wanted to ensure a reliable backup electric power source was always available in their building for dispatching of emergency vehicles and personnel,” Chavie said. “We wanted to help ensure community emergency service response was not hampered by this temporary power outage while we installed their standby generator. The F150 Lightning offered the perfect solution.”

Not all EVs have the ability to power homes and buildings in emergency or temporary situations. With the Lightning, you need the option called Intelligent Backup Power, which is used in conjunction with Ford’s Charge Station Pro, and your home or building must be able to interface with your F-150 Lightning. Once configured correctly, you can use the F-150 Lightning as your main power source for your home during a blackout, providing a serious sense of relief at a time when recent blackout risks have reached all-time highs.

“People need power to live, especially those with serious medical conditions who may need electricity to power equipment,” Boettcher said. “Vulnerable populations are also in danger when the power is out during extreme heat or cold. As cooperatives, we come together and work to restore power as quickly as possible, but having an EV that can electrify a home in these situations is a big added benefit to owning an electric vehicle.”

“The Ford Lightning comes equipped with the 9.6 kW Pro Power Onboard System,” Chavie explained. “There are two 120V outlets in the cab, four 120V outlets in the front trunk, four 120V outlets in the bed, and one 240V outlet in the bed. These are used just like you would an outlet in your garage.”

There are many options to use bidirectional charging beyond vehicle to home, including vehicle to grid, vehicle to load to power appliances or tools on the go, and vehicle to vehicle, or passing a charge from one car to another, which can help diffuse range anxiety. Pierce Pepin previously used the Lightning as a rolling power source for the Christmas lights on their SwiftCurrent float during the River Dazzle Parade in River Falls.

The ambulance project was the first time Pierce Pepin used the Lightning to power a building, but they are already planning to do it again. The co-op’s electrician will be able to use the Lightning to power the utility room lights and furnace when changing out electrical panels.

Chavie says this is only the beginning of bidirectional charging options.

“In the near future, many EVs may be capable of providing home backup power as well as ancillary grid services. EV charging is a growing area of electric consumption, but the flexibility of managed charging allows batteries to charge during times when energy is plentiful on the grid,” he said.

Anyone looking to purchase an electric vehicle, especially those who want the bidirectional charging option, should do some homework to ensure it will work for you.

“We always advise a homeowner to consult a master electrician as well as their electric utility when thinking about installing backup power sources at their home, whether that is a traditional fossil-fuel generator, a battery system, or an electric vehicle. It is very important that proper transfer switches and other safeguards are installed for safe operation,” Chavie said.

Other than the Ford F150, some other electric vehicles that offer bidirectional charging (standard or as an option) include:

  • Nissan Leaf (2013 and later)
  • Hyundai Ioniq 5
  • Hyundai Ioniq 6
  • Kia EV6
  • Kia Niro
  • Genesis GV60
  • MG ZS EV
  • MG MG4
  • Volkswagon ID Buzz
  • Mitsubishi Outlander

Last year, General Motors announced bidirectional charging will be standard in all of its electric vehicles by 2026, and Tesla confirmed all of its EVs will have bidirectional charging by 2025. This will offer another option for power, when it is needed most, like it was in Ellsworth.

“The use of the EV to power the building was so seamless that we barely noticed the transition from standard electric service to backup power,” said Jessi Willenbring, director of the Ellsworth Area Ambulance Service. “It ensured that we were able to provide uninterrupted emergency care to the community that we serve.”

Portable power, the next reality in the evolution of clean transportation.—Julie Lund

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