• Vehicle-to-home technology uses electric cars as backup power
  • Successful test in Canada proves it can work

The windows rattle in their frames while hail pounds the roof from an angry sky. And just when you thought the worst has passed, a bright flash followed by the sound of thunder precedes one of the most dreaded of modern life-disrupting events: a power outage. But now, imagine this: while your neighbors curse and begin to worry about all the food in the fridge, your own lights stay on and your food stays cold. It's all thanks to the Nissan Leaf electric car parked in your garage, which springs into action to pump the electricity stored in its batteries back into your house.

This is the vision Nissan, other electric-car makers and many power companies have begun to tout as a way to extend the functionality of electric cars beyond simply getting you from point A to point B.

In a North American first, Nissan of Canada, in partnership with Canadian electric company PowerStream, has demonstrated in real life how a Nissan Leaf outfitted with the proper charging station can communicate between the energy grid and a home to act as a backup power source. In a world filled with lots of brand-new fuel-saving technologies, this one is big enough that we could call it Vehicle 2.0.

The idea is simple: an electric car is essentially a rolling pack of giant batteries, and you can use them as you would any other battery. But instead of connecting up thousands of Duracells, your car can talk with the power grid, its charging station and the house to know when and how much electricity is needed. Officially called Vehicle to Home, or V2H, the concept extends beyond simply providing emergency backup power.

Here's another scenario: It's a hot summer day, and all the air conditioners in the city are running full blast. The demands on the power grid can get so bad that power companies simply cannot supply enough energy to keep up, so sudden brownouts start happening. Residents of some portions of California are very familiar with this scenario. Not only would your Leaf be able to spare you from the brownout, it could also help prevent it by responding to the power company's request to power your air conditioner, reducing demands on the grid. This situation would require upgrades to the power company's grid to for smart communications capability, but all across the U.S., utilities are currently scrambling to bring the grid into the 21st century.

V2H technology could also be useful to help you avoid costly peak demand charges from the power company. Many utilities price electricity based on time of day usage. At the highest-demand times, electricity can cost several times more than in the middle of the night when it is lowest. Imagine being able to power your house or office during the high-rate times off energy that was stored in the vehicle when it charged at the low night rate. It would be possible to avoid peak demand charges altogether.

Nissan says that the 24 kilowatt-hours of electricity stored in a Leaf's battery could power a typical home for about 24 hours without the homeowners even trying to conserve power. And the special charging station used for V2H can handle enough load to run household appliances such as the refrigerator, microwave, water heater, hair dryer and clothes dryer at the same time.

What it means to you: Switching to an electric car might mean making sacrifices in some areas. On the bright side, the vehicles might turn out to be more functional than a gasoline-powered car in other ways.

author photo

Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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