As Texas Grid Pressures Build, Could Creativity, or the F-150, Help?

June 17, 2021

Mark Dyson for Rocky Mountain Institute:

What could electric pickup trucks mean for a resilient electricity system in Texas? Some rough calculations illustrate the potential benefits for pickup truck owners, their neighbors, and Texans at large:

  • Backup power for electric pickup owners: Large batteries, such as those required to power pickup trucks, can provide a meaningful supply of backup power during a grid outage. An electric pickup like the F-150 Lightning might have approximately 115 kWh of usable capacity, with the ability to charge or discharge on the order of 10 kW via a Level 2 bi-directional charger.When resiliently connected to a home service panel that can safely “island” the home from the grid during an outage, a fully charged battery of that size could meet the electricity needs of the average American household for more than three days. An average 1.5 kilowatt output level over that span would be enough to power lights, medical equipment, WiFi, refrigerators, and furnace fans in the winter or some occasional air conditioning in the summer. Coupled with a rooftop solar PV system to recharge the truck battery during the day, this power reserve could be sustained much longer, provided the sun keeps shining.
  • Local, resilient power for communities: If properly integrated into grid planning, electric pickups can not only provide backup power for their owners during broader grid outages—but also for entire communities. The concept of an “autonomous energy grid,” developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and piloted by leading utilities, enables the intelligent coordination of DERs to provide power to critical loads. Through an autonomous energy grid, pickup batteries and vehicle batteries in general, including city fleet vehicles and buses, could provide power not just to homes, but also to community facilities. EV batteries could help keep critical sites powered, including first-response stations, emergency shelters, nursing homes, community centers, and grocery and convenience stores, even when the broader utility grid is offline or has limited power available.
  • Better reliability for all TexansMore than 20 percent of the vehicles on the road in Texas are pickup trucks. If half of these pickup truck owners switched to an electric pickup in the next decade and had their vehicles plugged in during a grid reliability event, they would provide the Texas grid with ~460 GWh of battery energy storage capacity and ~38 GW of power discharge capacity. For perspective, the entire United States added 3.5 GWh of energy storage capacity and 1.5 GW of discharge capacity in 2020. Therefore, electrifying even half of Texas pickup trucks would radically scale the storage market by one or two orders of magnitude.A 50 percent market share for electric pickups would also more than fill the capacity hole left in Texas by unexpected nuclear, coal, and gas plant outages this week. On June 14, the grid operator reported 11 GW of plants forced to shut down due to unexpected outages—roughly one-third of the discharge capacity from a half-electrified pickup market in Texas. And even if pickups were not able to “backfeed” to the grid to provide emergency capacity, they would still provide benefits to all grid customers, not just truck-owning households. By supporting home power needs, pickup truck batteries would effectively lower grid demand, limiting the scale and duration of rolling blackouts during a supply shortage.

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