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Published on January 2nd, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer

Prius Powers Home During Ice Storm

January 2nd, 2009 by  
 

Ice Storm Victim Improvises Prius-to-Home Energy Generator

A Massachusetts man – faced with no power in the recent ice storm, powered up the family Prius to create electricity: The hybrid car made enough electricity to run the essentials; the fridge, the lights, the TV, the wood-stove fan. During the power outage, it supplied 17 Kilowatt hours of energy to his home for three days.

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How did he do it? The Harvard Press described how the hybrid’s battery ran the house essentials for electrical engineer John Sweeney and family. He dug up an inverter which made 120v AC from 12v DC current and he wired it into the hybrid electric Prius, creating V2G technology on the fly.

V2G; vehicle to grid technology – is what will make it possible to reduce the amount of new power that we would otherwise need to add to the grid, because electric cars can act as rolling storage batteries to supply emergency extra electric power.

As such, V2G is of great interest to utlities and state governors seeking to reduce expenses and NIMBY issues associated with building more power stations. Vehicle to Grid technology reduces the need to build more power stations, by evening out grid loads; by swapping power back and forth as needed between electric vehicles and the grid.

But we don’t call it V2G when it’s your electric Prius powering your home, of course; the correct technical acronym is P2H; Prius2Home.

Last year the NYT reported on a similar case of another disaster victim powering his home in the same way; but this one employed his P2H power during a hurricane.

Related stories:

Electric Car Plows 4 Feet of Snow!

Boring Electric Car Still Coming in 2010

Photo of electrical damage in an ice storm by WindsurfGirl

Via NYT Green Inc





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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • Carlos

    Nice Story

  • Carlos

    Nice Story

  • Bob

    Was the engine running constantly for three days?

  • Bob

    Was the engine running constantly for three days?

  • No, not constantly – but intermittently, quoting the Harvard Press:

    “The device allowed the engine to run every half hour, automatically charging the car battery and indirectly supplying the required power.

    Helly Swartwood of Fairbank Street described a similar approach designed by her husband Malcolm Carley. They used that system until they could borrow a generator from a family member.”

  • No, not constantly – but intermittently, quoting the Harvard Press:

    “The device allowed the engine to run every half hour, automatically charging the car battery and indirectly supplying the required power.

    Helly Swartwood of Fairbank Street described a similar approach designed by her husband Malcolm Carley. They used that system until they could borrow a generator from a family member.”

  • Bob A.

    He powered the fridge during an ice storm? typical!

  • Bob A.

    He powered the fridge during an ice storm? typical!

  • Don R

    Just wondering if I could use my Chevy Silverado with the Duramax Diesel that has an OEM 225 AMP Alternator to do the same ? I believe idling a diesel will not damage an engine as much as idling a gasoline engine. Plus, the diesel at idling will only use approx. 1/3 of a gallon / hour.

  • Don R

    Just wondering if I could use my Chevy Silverado with the Duramax Diesel that has an OEM 225 AMP Alternator to do the same ? I believe idling a diesel will not damage an engine as much as idling a gasoline engine. Plus, the diesel at idling will only use approx. 1/3 of a gallon / hour.

  • Hey Don, your rig will certainly work. Just buy and inverter at the rated output you need and hardwire it in. A 2k watt Inverter will do ‘most’ home appliances and with 225 amps of 12vdc, thats plenty.

    You might consider an extra battery in the rig with an isolator too, you could hardwire the inverter in (#4 cable) and always have that electrical capacity right under the hood.

  • Hey Don, your rig will certainly work. Just buy and inverter at the rated output you need and hardwire it in. A 2k watt Inverter will do ‘most’ home appliances and with 225 amps of 12vdc, thats plenty.

    You might consider an extra battery in the rig with an isolator too, you could hardwire the inverter in (#4 cable) and always have that electrical capacity right under the hood.

  • steve

    This the second time in as many weeks I’ve read about the prius as a home emergency generator. Tony might’ve been too gracious to mention it, but there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about a 12v-120v inverter. It works on most anything with an alternator, Prius or otherwise. The cool part is that the motor can run only part of the time. The big oilburner would have to be running all the time.

  • steve

    This the second time in as many weeks I’ve read about the prius as a home emergency generator. Tony might’ve been too gracious to mention it, but there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about a 12v-120v inverter. It works on most anything with an alternator, Prius or otherwise. The cool part is that the motor can run only part of the time. The big oilburner would have to be running all the time.

  • comatus

    There are also very nice units that connect quickly to the rear power take-off of a tractor. Not to mention the fun you can have with a coal-fired stationary steamer, or a Rathbun waste-gas engine! All this is well and good for those of us seeking homestead power independence, or to be a snowstorm hero (although it doesn’t really save one any money). I love it.

    But it does rather run counter to the Prius mindset, doesn’t it? Just imagine the potential for atmospheric pollution! It’s like putting a wacking big condenser in there to improve your 0-60 times. You prove a certain point, but commit a year’s worth of enviro crime in just hours.

    And everybody PLEASE remember, as you take to the field with pliers and jumper cables: you MUST have a DPDT (“Frankenstein”) switch installed, or be well-practiced in safely pulling an electrical meter head, to connect your own power source to your house circuits. If you screw this up, you can not only kill yourself, but unwittingly kill a lineman miles away. And, oh yeah, blow up your AC motors when the power comes back on.

    Bob A., that was really funny. Sad, true, and funny.

  • comatus

    There are also very nice units that connect quickly to the rear power take-off of a tractor. Not to mention the fun you can have with a coal-fired stationary steamer, or a Rathbun waste-gas engine! All this is well and good for those of us seeking homestead power independence, or to be a snowstorm hero (although it doesn’t really save one any money). I love it.

    But it does rather run counter to the Prius mindset, doesn’t it? Just imagine the potential for atmospheric pollution! It’s like putting a wacking big condenser in there to improve your 0-60 times. You prove a certain point, but commit a year’s worth of enviro crime in just hours.

    And everybody PLEASE remember, as you take to the field with pliers and jumper cables: you MUST have a DPDT (“Frankenstein”) switch installed, or be well-practiced in safely pulling an electrical meter head, to connect your own power source to your house circuits. If you screw this up, you can not only kill yourself, but unwittingly kill a lineman miles away. And, oh yeah, blow up your AC motors when the power comes back on.

    Bob A., that was really funny. Sad, true, and funny.

  • KBK

    Oh for heaven’s sake! Just run a heavy duty extension cord from the inverter to a power strip and plug your fridge and whatever you need into the strip.

  • KBK

    Oh for heaven’s sake! Just run a heavy duty extension cord from the inverter to a power strip and plug your fridge and whatever you need into the strip.

  • KBK

    And while I’m at it, hardly an enviro crime. How much dirtier is a Prius per KWH than a coal-fired power plant?

  • KBK

    And while I’m at it, hardly an enviro crime. How much dirtier is a Prius per KWH than a coal-fired power plant?

  • Doug

    Why is it funny that the man ran a refrigerator during a storm? So if it is freezing outside you do not need to keep all your food from spoiling. Let me guess he should put it all out side? Please!

  • Doug

    Why is it funny that the man ran a refrigerator during a storm? So if it is freezing outside you do not need to keep all your food from spoiling. Let me guess he should put it all out side? Please!

  • Dan Hamilton

    So if it is freezing outside you do not need to keep all your food from spoiling. Let me guess he should put it all out side? Please!

    Duh! Of course that is what you do. You have to heat the house you don’t have to Heat food in the frig.

  • Dan Hamilton

    So if it is freezing outside you do not need to keep all your food from spoiling. Let me guess he should put it all out side? Please!

    Duh! Of course that is what you do. You have to heat the house you don’t have to Heat food in the frig.

  • Colin

    Not to turn this into a discussion about what to plug in during an outage, but the fridge has a thermostat, it only runs as needed – so not much in an ice storm. Plus it puts heat into the house so at worst it reduces the amount of fuel needed to stay warm.

    Now if you could (safely) tap into the heat made by the Prius engine to heat your house, that would be efficiency!

  • Colin

    Not to turn this into a discussion about what to plug in during an outage, but the fridge has a thermostat, it only runs as needed – so not much in an ice storm. Plus it puts heat into the house so at worst it reduces the amount of fuel needed to stay warm.

    Now if you could (safely) tap into the heat made by the Prius engine to heat your house, that would be efficiency!

  • Jim C.

    “the essentials; the fridge”

    as already pointed out, during an ice storm?

    “the TV”

    😀

  • Jim C.

    “the essentials; the fridge”

    as already pointed out, during an ice storm?

    “the TV”

    😀

  • Jose

    It seems to me that any vehicle with a 12-volt battery would work. What’s unique about a Prius in this application? Why wasn’t the DC electrical energy taken from the higher-voltage battery pack on the Prius?

    The author of the article made a bigger point of the electric utilities evening out power/energy demand on the grid by using car batteries attached to the grid (WITH INVERTERS, ETC.) as devices for storage and release of electrical energy to the grid. If the electric utilities think that this is so neat why don’t they pay their customers to store some of the utility’s electrical energy in banks of 12-volt batteries that are permenantly installed in the consumer’s home?

  • Jose

    It seems to me that any vehicle with a 12-volt battery would work. What’s unique about a Prius in this application? Why wasn’t the DC electrical energy taken from the higher-voltage battery pack on the Prius?

    The author of the article made a bigger point of the electric utilities evening out power/energy demand on the grid by using car batteries attached to the grid (WITH INVERTERS, ETC.) as devices for storage and release of electrical energy to the grid. If the electric utilities think that this is so neat why don’t they pay their customers to store some of the utility’s electrical energy in banks of 12-volt batteries that are permenantly installed in the consumer’s home?

  • Jose

    It seems to me that any vehicle with a 12-volt battery would work. What’s unique about a Prius in this application? Why wasn’t the DC electrical energy taken from the higher-voltage battery pack on the Prius?

    The author of the article made a bigger point of the electric utilities evening out power/energy demand on the grid by using car batteries attached to the grid (WITH INVERTERS, ETC.) as devices for storage and release of electrical energy to the grid. If the electric utilities think that this is so neat why don’t they pay their customers to store some of the utility’s electrical energy in banks of 12-volt batteries that are permenantly installed in the consumer’s home?

  • Jose

    It seems to me that any vehicle with a 12-volt battery would work. What’s unique about a Prius in this application? Why wasn’t the DC electrical energy taken from the higher-voltage battery pack on the Prius?

    The author of the article made a bigger point of the electric utilities evening out power/energy demand on the grid by using car batteries attached to the grid (WITH INVERTERS, ETC.) as devices for storage and release of electrical energy to the grid. If the electric utilities think that this is so neat why don’t they pay their customers to store some of the utility’s electrical energy in banks of 12-volt batteries that are permenantly installed in the consumer’s home?

  • Scott

    “What’s unique about a Prius in this application?”

    The Prius automatically cycles the engine based on it’s battery levels. When the engine is running, it is running faster than a typical ‘idle’ speed so it can charge the batteries. Also, the Prius has a design that captures hot engine coolant to keep the engine warmer so that these cycles aren’t ‘cold starts’. Assuming the Prius was in ‘run’ mode, it was using the large battery bank to perform these cycles.

    With a normal car, it would either have to idle all the time (using more gas due to constant idling, and possibly not fully heating the cat. converter, causing more emissions). Or, the person would have to turn the car on and off frequently, but it would only have one battery to charge vs. the Prius’ larger battery bank.

  • Scott

    “What’s unique about a Prius in this application?”

    The Prius automatically cycles the engine based on it’s battery levels. When the engine is running, it is running faster than a typical ‘idle’ speed so it can charge the batteries. Also, the Prius has a design that captures hot engine coolant to keep the engine warmer so that these cycles aren’t ‘cold starts’. Assuming the Prius was in ‘run’ mode, it was using the large battery bank to perform these cycles.

    With a normal car, it would either have to idle all the time (using more gas due to constant idling, and possibly not fully heating the cat. converter, causing more emissions). Or, the person would have to turn the car on and off frequently, but it would only have one battery to charge vs. the Prius’ larger battery bank.

  • Scott

    “What’s unique about a Prius in this application?”

    The Prius automatically cycles the engine based on it’s battery levels. When the engine is running, it is running faster than a typical ‘idle’ speed so it can charge the batteries. Also, the Prius has a design that captures hot engine coolant to keep the engine warmer so that these cycles aren’t ‘cold starts’. Assuming the Prius was in ‘run’ mode, it was using the large battery bank to perform these cycles.

    With a normal car, it would either have to idle all the time (using more gas due to constant idling, and possibly not fully heating the cat. converter, causing more emissions). Or, the person would have to turn the car on and off frequently, but it would only have one battery to charge vs. the Prius’ larger battery bank.

  • comatus – what environmental crime are you talking about exactly?

    In this case the power for the house is coming from the battery, not the gas.

    The advantage of adding the Prius to the battery is that it turns on every hour or so for a few minutes to recharge the battery when it gets low.

    As long as the Prius has enough fuel for the periodic recharges of the battery, it can produce three kilowatts of continuous power from the battery. That’s enough to maintain the basic household electrical needs.

  • comatus – what environmental crime are you talking about exactly?

    In this case the power for the house is coming from the battery, not the gas.

    The advantage of adding the Prius to the battery is that it turns on every hour or so for a few minutes to recharge the battery when it gets low.

    As long as the Prius has enough fuel for the periodic recharges of the battery, it can produce three kilowatts of continuous power from the battery. That’s enough to maintain the basic household electrical needs.

  • comatus – what environmental crime are you talking about exactly?

    In this case the power for the house is coming from the battery, not the gas.

    The advantage of adding the Prius to the battery is that it turns on every hour or so for a few minutes to recharge the battery when it gets low.

    As long as the Prius has enough fuel for the periodic recharges of the battery, it can produce three kilowatts of continuous power from the battery. That’s enough to maintain the basic household electrical needs.

  • zorba

    Since coal power is mentioned again and everyone seems down on coal, I would like to point out that coal can be burned cleanly in a gasifier.

    If only someone can buck the enviromentalists and build one.

    Coal, old tires, old computers, garbage, trash, waste wood and grasses can be turned to heat and ethanol cleanly.

    The “waste” heat used to produce steam for electric generators, the ethanol for fuel.

    The small amout of ash could be mined for metals, the rest used in concrete and asphalt.

    Lets use this 150+ years old technology.

  • zorba

    Since coal power is mentioned again and everyone seems down on coal, I would like to point out that coal can be burned cleanly in a gasifier.

    If only someone can buck the enviromentalists and build one.

    Coal, old tires, old computers, garbage, trash, waste wood and grasses can be turned to heat and ethanol cleanly.

    The “waste” heat used to produce steam for electric generators, the ethanol for fuel.

    The small amout of ash could be mined for metals, the rest used in concrete and asphalt.

    Lets use this 150+ years old technology.

  • Drew Potter

    I think that’s really cool, but I would not include the television as a vital piece of equipment for survival . It makes me sick to see how dependent America is on a mechanical box which spits out mostly lies.

  • Drew Potter

    I think that’s really cool, but I would not include the television as a vital piece of equipment for survival . It makes me sick to see how dependent America is on a mechanical box which spits out mostly lies.

  • Drew Potter

    I think that’s really cool, but I would not include the television as a vital piece of equipment for survival . It makes me sick to see how dependent America is on a mechanical box which spits out mostly lies.

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