Assessing Sandy: Are Electric Cars A Better Bet In Emergencies?

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BMW ActiveE electric car at closed NJ gas station after Hurricane Sandy [photo: Tom Moloughney]

BMW ActiveE electric car at closed NJ gas station after Hurricane Sandy [photo: Tom Moloughney]

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For many of us, lines at gas stations and homes without power are no more than news, but millions on the U.S. East Coast are still coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Many areas are still without power, and gasoline is a worryingly rare commodity for a transport system utterly dependent on it.

But for many with electric cars, the latter hasn't been such a problem.

Even those without power to homes have been able to charge elsewhere--rather than queueing hours for gas to find the pumps have run dry.

Friend of GreenCarReports, BMW ActiveE owner Tom Moloughney, is one of those still able to travel to work in New Jersey every day.

In fact, it's almost business as usual for him, reports The New York Times.

Between charging at home--using a natural gas generator since the power went out--and charging at his restaurant, Moloughney hasn't experienced any problems on his 100-mile round trip each day.

And Moloughney isn't the only electric car driver avoiding the chaos--those using the three free chargers at his restaurant are likely getting by okay too.

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the east coast of Japan in 2011, meltdown at the Fukushima power plant left huge areas without power.

Mitsubishi 'i' Emergency Power Supply

Mitsubishi 'i' Emergency Power Supply

There, the role of the electric car has taken on a different level of importance. With large battery packs, several Japanese carmakers are turning electric cars into backup power units--able to provide electricity to those with zero access to power.

Whether a similar system would work in the U.S. or not is a different matter--North American homes typically use three times the power of their Japanese counterparts. But it may be enough to keep essentials like the refrigerator or cooker up and running during power outages--as Doron Shalvi has found, using his Nissan Leaf as a power source.

Not that electric cars are perfect in disasters.

If power is truly out, then it's only a matter of time until your EV runs out of juice. Even worse, the car itself could be underwater. Or its charging station submerged.

But in some parts of New York and New Jersey right now, electric cars are suddenly making a whole lot of sense.

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