Gas generators still own the portable, emergency home-backup power space. Ten years ago there was a lot of hope and hype for using all the energy stored inside EVs’ batteries to power your entire house, but it hasn’t come to pass. No EV maker will sell you a bidirectional charger, outside of Japan and a handful of small utility pilots.
Meanwhile, the 2020 Ford F-150 will come with the option for its own built-in, onboard gas generator. And aftermarket companies, like Indiana’s Real AC power, offer sleek, chassis-integrated generator systems (pictured above) for internal combustion engine (ICE) trucks. EV makers ceded this space for unknown reasons. But now Tesla CEO Elon Musk has teased a 240V AC power outlet on the Cybertruck, something neither Rivian nor Bollinger have announced. We don’t know how many watts we can expect, though. So will the Tesla Cybertruck finally offer EV enthusiasts a path to navigate societal collapse? Or are we stuck with settling for “head’s up, you’re going to lose power” messages?
North American homes, on average, draw slightly above 1kW on idle, but that spikes with appliances like microwaves, electric ovens, and dryers. An electric hot water tank will use 4.5 kW, a well pump roughly 4 kW. If you use an electric furnace or heat pump, that’ll need 15 kW or more. (Source: Honda) Most North American homes now get 240V, 200A (48 kW) service from their utility. Over the course of 24 hours, American homes consume roughly 30 kWh.
These numbers sound like child’s play when it comes to charging electric vehicles. We’ve become accustomed to measuring kilowatts with three digits. Tesla recently increased the Supercharger top speed of the base Model 3 from 100 to 170 kW. The Model 3 Long Range can do 250 kW, or take your Porsche Taycan to an Electrify America station and enjoy up to 270 kW. The caveat to those numbers is that they represent DC-to-DC charging speeds, available only at stations with large transformers, sending direct current straight to your battery. Meanwhile, our grid and your home’s electrical panel use alternating current (AC). With AC charging, the speeds are much lower, but can still dwarf anything else in your home. Inverters are devices that convert DC power to AC power.
The portable car charger that comes standard with Teslas or the Ford Mach-E Mustang can pull 7.6 kW AC power from your electric oven outlet. A Tesla Model S or X Long Range can charge at up to 11.5 kW AC from Tesla’s hardwired charger on a 60 amp circuit in your home. But you won’t be able to pull anything close to those speeds back from your EV. Your best bet is probably something like this portable Energizer 1.1 kW inverter ($105) which you connect to the poles of your 12V lead acid battery, or if that’s not easy to reach, you can buy the 0.5kW version ($50) that plugs in to your car’s cigarette lighter adapter. This was popular during California’s wildfires and mass power outages this autumn. It’s good for keeping your fridge running.
As useful as those inverters are, they don’t compare to the dedicated generators that can power your entire home, keeping all your appliances humming, and without fear of using the microwave. These generators work with a “transfer switch” connected to your main electrical panel. So when the grid goes off, you can just fire up your generator, flip the switch, and power your whole home. No extension cords running from your car to your fridge. Check out this Ford F-350, with 240V outlets and offering 15 kW of onboard power:
So it’s exciting (a relief, honestly) that the Cybertruck will offer a 240V outlet, but until we know how many watts, we can’t get too excited. Bollinger says they plan to offer 10 120V outlets, but again no wattage, so we don’t know how many kWs the truck could send to your home. Same with Rivian. Meanwhile, in Japan, Mitsubishi started selling a 6kW bi-directional charger in October, letting you power your entire home from the Outlander PHEV. Mind you, they’re also apparently asking for $11,000 for the charger alone. You’ve got to hand it Japan’s Chademo standard for supporting bi-directional DC charging, though just 6kW is disappointing.
Very early on, we had the ability to use the car as a battery outputting power. Maybe worth revisiting that.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 4, 2018
We agree, Elon! Don’t let gasoline own this space. Let’s see those bidirectional chargers. Dethrone gas generators. Don’t wait around for utilities to agree to a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) standard, for the most part they’re clearly slow walking it. V2H NOW!
I’m surprised neither Rivian or Bollinger have pitched a vehicle-to-home (V2H) setup yet. It’s a killer feature. I can see that for Tesla, the situation is a bit more complicated from a corporate policy perspective, but still very solvable. Tesla would want to program it, so people weren’t loading up their battery on free Supercharging miles (this author’s referral link!) and using them to power their house. But in any event, the Cybertruck’s 240V outlet is super exciting. If it can offer 40 amps, that means a Cybertruck could charge a Model 3 at 22 miles per hour of charge. Fantastic.
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