When your EV is also your outage battery backup: Looking ahead to bidirectional charging

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EVs on the market can already charge other devices. Bidirectional charging EVSE will allow EVs to function as full-house battery backup.

Bill Powell, WEC’s Energy Coach, doesn’t usually trade in predicting the future. When it comes to making big purchase decisions, though, he knows WEC members like to plan ahead. Members who are still driving combustion engine cars, but are thinking about preparing for an electric vehicle, may be interested in recent innovations in bidirectional charging.

For most EVs and EVSE (charging equipment) on the market, energy flows one way: into the vehicle. Now, some EVs are also able to send stored energy out. This kind of capability, called Vehicle to Load (V2L), means the vehicle has outlets right on it. You can use the vehicle to power another EV that’s out of juice or other devices.

With adapters, a wider range of EVs may be V2L capable. “I believe most Kia EV6, Kia Niro EV, and Hyundai Ioniq 5 EVs can do it, although it may require purchase of a separate adapter. I’ve seen a Niro EV powering a hotplate through the V2L adapter,” said Dave Roberts of Drive Electric Vermont. “Some EV owners that do not have a factory installed V2L system have come up with their own solutions involving an inverter connected to the 12V battery. This can be a low cost way to provide some limited backup power without needing a generator, if people are comfortable getting under the hood.”

Bidirectional charging equipment is still relatively new to market. Ford has released a bidirectional charger for its electric F-150 Lightning pickup, which has V2L technology standard. With a bidirectional charger, the vehicle can plug into a full-house system. Far beyond powering one device at a time, the vehicle can become a comprehensive generator replacement. “When there’s an outage, the battery in your car becomes your backup,” said Powell. Right now, he explained, “It’s limited, and it’s expensive. That’s going to change.”

As more EV makers employ this technology, the price of a bidirectional charger is expected to come down. Also in the future: a vehicle with bidirectional charging could send power to the grid (V2X capable), which could be harnessed by WEC to reduce load during peak hours, and reduce power costs for all members.

As always, the Energy Coach asks members to plan ahead before investing in anything that will increase electric load. Talk to an electrician to assess what you can add to your service panel, and call the Co-op to get on the list for elective service upgrades.

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