In early March, strong winds toppled trees and power lines in the Nashville area, leaving thousands of homes without power. But about 20 miles out of town, an electric pickup truck powered John and Rachelle Reigard’s home while keeping their lights on.
“You can look at all the houses around us and they’re all off,” said Mr. Reigard, who bought the pickup, a Ford F-150 Lightning, more than a year ago. “A lot of people ask the question, ‘How do you have power?’”
The Reigards are part of a small group of pioneers who use the batteries in their electric vehicles as a source of backup power for their homes. Energy and auto experts expect many more people to do the same in coming years as auto and energy companies make it easier for people and businesses to tap into the energy in electric cars for more than just driving.
Electric grids come under increasing strain and buckle during extreme weather events related to climate change, including prolonged heat waves, intense storms and devastating floods. Many people have purchased generators or solar and battery systems for their homes, often at great expense.
For some people, electric vehicles are a better option because they can perform multiple functions. Another big advantage: the battery in an F-150 Lightning or the electric Chevrolet Silverado pick-up, which is expected to go on sale this year, can store much more energy than home batteries that are sometimes placed on the roof with solar panels. Link an electric truck to a home solar system, or so the idea goes, and a family can leave the lights on for days or even weeks.
The use of electric vehicles as a power source has intrigued executives at electric utilities, including Pedro Pizarro, who heads the Edison Electric Institute, the industry’s premier trade organization, and is the CEO of Edison International, which powers millions of people with homes and businesses in Southern California.
Mr. Pizarro’s company and other utilities are testing whether it is practical and safe to send power from electric vehicles to the grid.
By taking power when it’s high and releasing it when it’s scarce, electric vehicles, he said, could serve as “a bigger rubber band to absorb the shocks and carry them from day to day and week to week.” to master.”
Greater use of electric vehicles in this way should also allow utilities and homeowners to reduce global warming by relying more on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind to provide intermittent power.
For now, few electric vehicles can provide backup power. But executives at Tesla, the dominant electric car company, and other automakers have said they are working on updates that will allow many more cars to do this.
When the power goes out in the Reigards neighborhood of Mount Juliet, Tenn., their truck provides enough electricity to keep the lights on, run four refrigerators, and run a fan in a natural gas-fired heating system. The truck doesn’t keep their air conditioning on, but other essentials turn on just minutes after the start of a breakdown.
When the family lost their power around Christmas, Mrs Reigard’s parents, who were visiting, were alarmed because it was freezing outside. “They started thinking, ‘My God, what’s going on?'” Mr Reigard said. His response: “There is nothing wrong. We’ll be fine.”
The couple were so happy with their truck that they bought 10 more for their company, Grade A Construction. They estimate that the investment saves them $300 per month per vehicle, because running on electricity costs less per mile than burning gasoline.
While the trucks reduce operating costs, it required hiring experts and spending thousands of dollars to equip the Reigards’ home with the electrical equipment that would allow it to draw power from the F-150. The couple used Qmerit, a company that manages the development, installation and maintenance of electric vehicles, storage and vehicle-to-home energy systems.
A handful of components pass information between the truck and the home’s electrical system, appliances, and lighting. Once set up with a homeowner’s preferences, the system decides when the truck charges its batteries and when it sends electricity back to the house.
But such systems can be complicated and some early adopters have encountered problems.
Kevin Dyer, a software quality engineer who lives near Los Angeles, has been using electric vehicles since 2009 and bought an F-150 Lightning in September. He wanted the truck to help his family overcome the power outages that have become common in California in recent years.
“We’ve completed the installation,” said Mr. Dyer. “The truck actually drove my house. That was the high five moment. Then it went downhill. It basically just works and then turns off.
Mr Dyer, 59, said he hoped a software update or other modest fix would fix the problem.
Energy executives said the industry was working to improve and simplify the technology to connect electric cars to homes, something they said would happen within a few years.
Oliver Phillips, chief operating officer at Qmerit, said that over time, more people could easily combine solar panels, home batteries and electric vehicles. Together, those devices will “bulletproof” people against power outages, he said.
Battery-powered vehicles could eventually play an even bigger role in feeding energy into the grid when demand for electricity exceeds supply, said Gus Puga, owner of Airstream Services, an electricity, heating and cooling company partnered with Qmerit. worked together to install the system at the Reigard’s house.
Some energy experts worry that the growth of electric cars could strain grids by massively increasing energy demand. Mr Puga disagrees: “I think we are going to add stability to the grid.”
In the automotive industry, some experts have warned that the frequent use of cars to power homes or the grid could cause batteries to deteriorate more quickly, reducing range — the distance vehicles can travel on a full charge. But automakers have downplayed those risks.
Ford and General Motors are eager to market the versatility of their battery-powered models to people who have experienced power outages or fear blackouts.
“It’s really a game-changer,” said Ryan O’Gorman, manager of energy services for business development at Ford. “The truck is a gigantic power source. EVs are big and can power the house for several days.”
Mark Bole, head of energy connectivity and battery solutions at GM, said the company planned to offer a suite of devices and services to help customers get the most out of their electric vehicle. “What we think is absolutely important is making it simple and affordable for the customer,” he said.
But Mr Pizarro, the utility’s executive, warned that energy and auto companies still had to refine the technology that would allow cars to send power to homes and the grid. He expects more problems to be identified as more people start using electric vehicles as backup power.
“It’s the early days,” Mr. Pizarro said. “There will be surprises.”