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Using A Hybrid For Emergency Power: Tough Choice

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2011 Toyota Prius

2011 Toyota Prius

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In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there are still thousands without power--and even shelter--along the Northeast coast.

It makes most of our issues look rather trivial, but admidst the chaos we've seen examples of great solidarity and ingenuity from those affected.

The power losses have also brought to light the alternative use of electric cars as power sources--but in extreme circumstances, even hybrid vehicles have been used.

One New Jersey man used his Toyota Prius hybrid as a backup generator, reports NBC News.

Using a 100 watt power inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter--later upgrading to a 300 watt inverter--and some heavy-duty extension cords, Bob Sakala of Paramus powered lights, laptops and his TV.

The high output of the car's battery was enough to keep some of his electrics working--though unlike a full battery-electric car, the Prius needs its engine to run to keep the battery topped up.

While not a perfect solution, the Prius could at least be considered a more efficient alternative to doing similar with a regular car. Three-quarters of a tank of gas powered Bob's family home for almost a week, while the power was down.

And as many on the East Coast were acutely aware, sometimes all you can turn to is a last resort.

As with any similar system of using a vehicle as a generator, it's a trade-off between the power you need to use to keep your home's electrical equipment on, and being able to travel any distance if you need to. NYC's taxi drivers have certainly been praying for hybrids in recent weeks.

For those who lost power, but were lucky enough not to lose their entire house, an electric car or hybrid could be seen as a suitable way of providing short-term electricity.

It's not ideal, but when worst comes to worst, you take what you can get.

+++++++++++

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Comments (3)
  1. The guy connected the inverter to the cig lighter so the power is limited.

    If you connect it to the 12v lead acid battery, you can use up to 1.5kW inverter. The 201V HV battery supplies power to the 12v battery. The gas engine turns on only when it needs to.
     
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  2. In this case, a series hybrid would be even better option. Those generators are far more efficient and powerful than any other hybrids or ICE cars. It can generate enough power to keep the entire street going...

    I am surprised that GM hasn't adopt that technology into its large pickup trucks/SUVs for construction site related uses. Offer it as an option would have been nice.
     
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  3. I see no reason why the electric motors/generators in a parallel hybrid would be any less efficient than on a series one -- they're all used in the 90+% range.
    The overwhelming majority of losses are from the gas engine, and there the Prius does a great job. Those cars may very well be the most efficient "generators" around indeed.

    Converting more than 1~2kW of an hybrid or EV's otherwise formidable potential into a usable 120/240V AC requires tapping into its high voltage system, certainly not something one would want to improvise.
    Furthermore the availability and cost of the required custom inverter (high, non-standard input voltage) may be show-stoppers already.
     
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