Icestorm Blackout? Time to Power Up the Prius?

January 13, 2014

So I’m lugging my generator over to a repair shop last week, just as the polar vortex was kind of fading. ( I waited till after the rush) The guy there said they’d had 15 generators come in on the day of the big ice storm a few weeks ago. I, of course, have not been responsibly powering the generator up every month or so to mix the gas around, and it’s become gummed up and unstartable – which would not be a good thing if we have another bad storm.
So at the same time, I’m looking at the two Priuses in my garage.  Could there be a simpler solution to the emergency power problem? Since hurricane Sandy, we’ve been reading about plucky homebrew solutions to keeping the lights on in a pinch.

People are smart. They see the possibilities sometimes before the marketers do.

I called Fred Pickering, my car guy here in town to ask if he knows anything about this – turns out he had just been involved in a kit upgrade for a local Prius owner – and he gave it to me straight. Not ready for prime time, unless you are an accomplished electrical engineer, and don’t mind having the warranty voided on your car’s electronics.
That said, I have no doubt that we will see this emerge as a more common option in the future –  we know that Toyota has this as an option in Japan – it makes too much sense..

Autoblog Green:

The Toyota Prius’ battery pack just got something like a five-star rating from a truly seasoned professional – a 50-year aircraft technician. Bob Osemlak, who’d served more than three of those five decades with the Canadian Air Force, brought electricity back to his home in December during a heavy ice storm thanks to his gas-electric car.

The Thornhill, Ontario resident lost power for nearly a day on December 21 – not nearly as much as millions of other people hit by the recent storm – and so he still set about using his Prius for backup power, according to EV World. His ingenuity allowed him to turn on lights, furnace, refrigerator and the TV.Being an aircraft technician for so long brought Osemlak the ability to home-brew his V2H set-up that he urges other people to avoid, for safety reasons. He had planned for a potential power outage by installing an outlet on his furnace and, when the storm struck, he ran a cord through the basement window to the car. During the nine hours Osemlak used his Prius for backup power, the car’s fuel gauge only reduced less than one bar, or roughly the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline.It wasn’t the first time Osemlak had played with his vehicle. In the 1960s, while stationed in Winnepeg, Manitoba, he created a car starter. Every hour, the car would start up and run for 10 minutes to avoid being frozen solid in frigid winter temperatures.

Toyota has just introduced a new option for the Prius Hybrid and Prius Plug-In Hybrid, which effectively turns them into backup generators for your home. Seeing as Prius hybrids already come with an inverter, the price of the factory-installed option doesn’t add too much to the cost of the vehicle.

The Prius’ option is $787, and installs standard outlets in the front and rear of the vehicle. The Prius Plug-In’s option goes for $1,179, and uses a special adapter in the charging port. The system is rated at 1,500W and 100V, which is enough to run a refrigerator, lights, television, radio, laptop, network, and cell phones.

The Prius version was released on the 22nd this month, and the Prius Plug-In version will be available November 1, 2012.

Autoblog Green:

Homeowners up and down the East Coast have bought a lot of hybrid converters, devices that turn their Toyota Prius into an emergency generator. In fact, ConVerdant Vehicles, LLC, which offers so-called Plug-Out Kits, sold out after Hurricane Sandy caused blackouts in upper Northeast, said owner Randy Bryan.

Given semi-regular power outages, there had been some interest in the kits before the Superstorm, Bryan said, but once the storm hit and local residents were plagued by blackouts for days after the downpour, the demand for Plug-Out Kits took off. “They’re using it for a lot more than just a 12-volt battery,” he said.

Bryan has used a Prius generator for non-emergency power tasks – from powering speakers and a microphone at a nearby sustainability fair to charging a Tesla (the mind whirls). Once the kit is installed, using it is a simple process – connect an extension cord from the car to the house or worksite and enjoy the power.

ConVerdant (the name means “with green”) claims the Prius generator is much more efficient than typical backup generators, which need maintenance to keep them working and produce their fair share of noise and exhaust. Since the Prius has built-in stop-start technology, it only runs the generator motor when the battery gets too low. Of course, all the energy is still coming from gasoline, but stop-start allows the Prius to use only a fraction of the fuel required by typical generators, the company says.

Most of ConVerdant’s customers are using their Plug-Out Kit on a second- or third-generation Prius or on a Prius V. The Prius C doesn’t use the same battery, and neither does the Prius Plug-In Hybrid, so those vehicles are not compatible. ConVerdant Vehicles is testing out the larger li-ion battery packs and their potential for backup generators, but for now, the regular Prius hybrid powertrain is the natural fit. In Japan, Toyota is testing vehicle-to-home connections using Prius Plug Ins.

The Concord, NH, company also sells Plug-In Advanced Kits, converting hybrids like the Prius into super high-mileage plug-in hybrids.

14 Responses to “Icestorm Blackout? Time to Power Up the Prius?”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    A suggestion? Get a can of “starting fluid” (ether) to spray down the carburetor, put a little gas treatment/carb cleaner in the gas, and you should be able to start the generator easily even if the gas is “gummy”. Works for me every spring when I need to start up the roto-tiller and lawn mower—I don’t even bother draining the old gas in the fall anymore.

  2. daveburton Says:

    Be sure to use Sta-Bil in the gasoline, but even then you need to replace the old gasoline with fresh every six months or so. Just drain the old gas into a jerry can, and use it in your car (unless you’ve let it get really badly spoiled).

    Diesel lasts longer. Natural gas or propane is better yet.

  3. daveburton Says:

    “Prius hybrids already come with an inverter.”

    They do? What for?

    • dumboldguy Says:

      WHOA! Look out everyone, Dave is trying to start a distracting gallop here with this question. There may not be any “inverters” in the computers Dave works on when he’s not shilling for NC-20 or bothering us on Crock, but every hybrid or EV has one of the thingies. And converters, and maybe even inverter/converters.

      Please, DON’T answer him. He either knows the answer or should. If he doesn’t, let him google it. I suggest “what do inverters do in hybrid vehicles” for a start (and finish).

      (Dave DID have a useful idea with his suggestion to fuel generators with propane or natural gas, though).

      • daveburton Says:

        An inverter, in this context, is a device which converts DC (from the batteries) to single-phase, 110v 60 Hz AC. I know of no reason for a Prius to have one, and I doubt that you do, either.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          I can surely believe that Dave “knows no reason for a Prius to have an inverter”, because Dave doesn’t seem to understand the basic physics and electricity concepts used in hybrid vehicles (as I suspected from his first comment), and was apparently too lazy to go look up “inverter” as I suggested (as is proven by this latest truly stupid comment).

          Or maybe he did look it up, but isn’t able to grasp the high school level physics involved?

          Pay attention, Dave. I will give you a brief explanation. Hybrids and EV’s use low voltage DC (direct current) batteries to store energy. They have AC (alternating current) traction motors to power the drive wheels. Those AC traction motors are also used during regenerative braking to generate AC that recharges the batteries. An INVERTER manages that DC to AC to DC conversion. ALL HYBRIDS AND EV’s HAVE THEM, INCLUDING THE PRIUS (which couldn’t run without one). There are also “converters” in hybrids/EV’s which step up/step down voltage. Sometimes they are combined into a single unit that is called an “inverter-converter”.

          I “doubt” that Dave should be allowed inside a computer if this is all the understanding he has of basic electricity. There be both AC and DC “monsters’ in there, Dave, and “inverters” of a sort to manage them. If you don’t know the difference, you will fry your customers’ machines.

          • daveburton Says:

            Wrong, Old Guy. Prius motors run off variable-frequency 3-phase power, not 60 Hz single-phase 110v AC.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            From Toyota’s own website on its hybrid technology

            “Power Control Unit
            Toyota’s hybrid technology is equipped with a Power Control Unit that consists of an inverter, a Voltage-Boosting Converter and an AC/DC converter to run the car on electric motors”.

            The inverter converts DC supplied by the battery to AC to turn the electric motors. Conversely, it converts AC generated by the electric motors and the generator into DC to recharge the battery”.

            Dave would confuse you by talking about the phase characteristics of the AC that is used. AC is AC for our purposes, the batteries are DC, and the inverter is necessary, period. Typical obfuscation and game playing on Dave’s part.

            Recall that he started with this comment

            “Prius hybrids already come with an inverter.” They do? What for?”

            Yes, Dave they come with an inverter, and Toyota says so and gives the same explanation I did. Why do you insist on playing games with us?.

          • daveburton Says:

            Poor confused Old Guy says, “AC is AC for our purposes.”

            No, Old Guy, AC is not AC.

            650v variable-frequency three-phase AC is not the AC with which you and your refrigerator are familiar.

            The topic of this article is systems to run your household appliances from your Prius. That requires an inverter, to convert the car’s DC to 100-120v 60 Hz single-phase AC.

            That’s very different from the three-phase, variable-frequency, max 650 volt AC which drives the Prius’s electric motors.

            A standard Prius inverter is not compatible with your household appliances. It’s not the sort of inverter that you can use to run a refrigerator, which is what we were talking about.

            It is possible that Toyota has designed a modified inverter which also outputs ~110v 60 Hz AC, but that’s certainly not a feature of the standard inverter which standard Prius cars “already come with” (which is the phrase GreenOptimist used). My guess is that Toyota just added another inverter, which outputs 60 Hz, single-phase, 100-120v AC, and GreenOptimist is just wrong.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Poor confused Old Guy says, “AC is AC for our purposes.”

            Dave seems to think that just because he makes the assertion, that anyone beside him will believe that I am “poor confused Old Guy”, and continues to try to make an obscure and irrelevant point about “650v variable-frequency three-phase AC” rather than admit he misspoke when he said that there was no inverter in a Prius. It’s called “Lie ’til you die” among serial liars like Dave.

            Dave says “The topic of this article is systems to run your household appliances from your Prius. That requires an inverter, to convert the car’s DC to 100-120v 60 Hz single-phase AC” He is 100% correct, but seems to have misread this article and not really looked at the GreenOptimist link, or he would understand that what is being talked about is an ADDITIONAL add-on inverter that does in fact allow one to tap into the DC stored in the batteries and use it for “100-120V 60 HZ single phase AC”.

            If one wants to live dangerously and perhaps void the warranty by breaking into the “factory-installed original equipment” inverter that is part of ALL Priuses, it IS possible to tap into the batteries that way, but explosions and electrocution are a big risk.

            The AC that comes from the add-on inverter talked about in this article has NO CONNECTION AT ALL with the AC that is used to power the traction motors beyond the fact that both are drawn from the same batteries.l

            Dave says, “A standard Prius inverter is not compatible with your household appliances” and he’s 100% correct. Dave also says, “It’s not the sort of inverter that you can use to run a refrigerator, which is what we were talking about”. The first part of that is correct, but NO ONE BUT DAVE WAS TALKING ABOUT IT.

            Dave says “It is possible that Toyota has designed a modified inverter which also outputs ~110v 60 Hz AC, but that’s certainly not a feature of the standard inverter which standard Prius cars “already come with”. And no one is arguing that point, and the article is about ADD-ON inverters. not a “modified inverter that also….”.

            It is NOT a “guess” to say that Toyota “just added another inverter, which outputs 60 Hz, single-phase, 100-120v AC”. That’s EXACTLY what they did, and the only person who is wrong is daveburton—-double dead wrong, in fact.

            And has anyone noticed that Dave has gone from his original comment of:“Prius hybrids already come with an inverter. They do? What for?”, to talking about “the standard Prius inverter” and the “standard inverter which standard Prius cars come with”. Change stories in mid-BS much, Dave?

  4. […] Icestorm Blackout? Time to Power Up the Prius? | Climate Denial … […]

  5. MorinMoss Says:

    Here’s a potentially interesting deal – VIA Motors, Sun Country & Best Western – an up-to-1000-vehicles deal that would see these vans used as shuttles.

    It also potentially means dozen of mobile electric generators on the road between Detroit & Montreal, a handy thing in a stretch of country known for bad weather & power outages.

    Here’s what VIA claims the vans are capable of from

    Exportable power
    Power where you need it—at home or the workplace. 120 and 240 volt outlets right on the back of the van provide easy access for work or emergency.
    Now you can plug your house into your van in an emergency!
    The VTRUX power export module option provides 15 kW at 30 amps of onboard mobile power. A utility grade output module, now in development, is designed to provide 50 kW of mobile emergency power to keep critical facilities online.

    The above does say that the power export module is an option so it’s not known if the vans in this deal will have that capability and I’ve not been able to find a price for the option.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      perfect example. the market strikes again. more and more of these vehicles will be built as the uses multiply. manufacturers of EVs will pick up the hint and begin offering the plug option.
      More and more extremes will make it a no-brainer.
      utilities will have to adopt or adapt.

  6. […] 2014/01/13: PSinclair: Icestorm Blackout? Time to Power Up the Prius? […]

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