The Future Begins Today: Car-Powered Households

The Future Begins Today: Car-Powered Households 1 photo
Photo: Nissan
It's no surprise that hybrids and electric cars are slowly taking control of the automotive industry, although enthusiasts struggle to keep them away and continue to enjoy the fresh breeze of... gasoline.

There's not much we can do though, because gas prices are skyrocketing every day, so more and more car manufactures are attracted by the class that calls itself “green” and which promises to keep the environment clean. While burning less or no fuel at all, that is.

Now, hybrids and electric cars have been around for a while, but there comes a time when people have to use the innovative technologies fitted on these cars in many other regards. And the latest trend is to power your household using the green vehicle parked in front of your porch.

So, the whole idea is pretty simple: if the household can be used to charge your car, why can't the vehicle power the household in case of emergency? And because the brilliant minds in the automotive industry go much further, the conclusion sounds way better: a green car can indeed be used to power a house, not only in case of emergency, but every day, just in order to reduce the overall electricity costs.

There are many countries around the world where electricity is a bit more expensive during the day, so this can actually come in very handy. Just thing about it: you charge your EV at night, when electricity is much more affordable, and then use it to power you fridge during the day. And if you're also using some home solar generators, it all gets much better.

Getting back to our main subject, the idea of using a car to power a household isn't new, as it actually emerged a few years ago. Severely hit by the economic recession, car manufacturers from all over the world, and those from Japan in particular (to be read Toyota), focused a lot more on EVs and hybrids. Since they used large battery packs, it was only a matter of time until someone came with the idea of powering a household with this new green means of transportation.

The year of 2012 brought the first efforts in this regard. The tech heads at Toyota developed what they are calling a vehicle-to-home (briefly known as V2H) system which, in its turn, is based on the intuitively-baptized Home Energy Management System (HEMS). The whole technology is not yet ready to enter production, but the Japanese engineers promise to test it this year as part of the Toyota City Low-Carbon Verification Project that already debuted in April 2010.

So here's how it works. You simply park the EV or the plug-in hybrid in front of your house and connect the power cord to recharge the batteries during the night. Since night electricity plans are much more affordable, most people already prefer to recharge their EVs during the night, so that's quite a common scenario.

The same power cord is actually one of the key elements that make the power transfer work the other way around. During the day, the car, still connected to the charging stand, sends power to a home battery, which in its turn is connected to the HEMS system we mentioned about a bit earlier. This is the one that “interacts” with all households electronics, regardless if we're talking about a fridge, TV or air conditioning.

There are some limitations though, so stop applauding. Imagine that a single car cannot provide so much electricity to power or your household gadgets, or if it does, it's only possible for a short period of time. But it's still recommended to avoid plugging in your laptops, game consoles, weather stations, ice makers, vacuum cleaners and shavers.

The good news is that the connect solar power generators can help too, and so can the standard power supplies, so it's all a very complex system in which the plug-in hybrid plays the key role.

According to Toyota, a fully charged Prius Plug-in with a full tank of fuel can supply four days worth of power, but we don't really know how much truth actually is behind these words since car manufacturers tend to exaggerate a little bit in all those press releases.

As we said, the idea has been around for a while and the story of John Sweeney, of Harvard, Massachusetts, is the living proof in this regard.

He managed to use his Prius to power the home during a power outage caused by a severe snow storm.

Which means that yes, home made systems can work too, but this means that you're either an electric engineers or you are using a pre-configured system.

Sweeney's technology was based on the same idea, trying to take the most out of the large battery installed on the Prius. He used an invert to convert the DC power generated by the car to AC power that could be used by his house appliances. According to various sources, he managed to squeeze 17 Kilowatt hours of energy out of his system, while Toyota's system is expected to generate 10 kWh. In your face Toyota!

The difference was that Sweeney's project took full advantage of the gasoline engine – electric motor team. As you know, once there's no more electric power left in the battery, the Prius Plug-in switches to gasoline power to recharge the battery, but also to put the car in motion. Well, thanks to this technology, Sweeney had nothing else to do than to turn on his car and leave it so until both the battery and the fuel tank got empty. It all lasted for three days. How much he spent during these three days? Just five gallons worth of money.

In the end, it's pretty clear that EVs and plug-in hybrids are much more than simple means of transportation and, after all, how can you be upset if they're doing such a great thing? Of course, many more technologies, improvements and innovations will follow, but the future begins today. And as far as the planet is concerned, this is the right way to go.
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About the author: Bogdan Popa
Bogdan Popa profile photo

Bogdan keeps an eye on how technology is taking over the car world. His long-term goals are buying an 18-wheeler because he needs more space for his kid’s toys, and convincing Google and Apple that Android Auto and CarPlay deserve at least as much attention as their phones.
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