As weather-related power outages left hundreds of thousands without electricity during the holiday season, attention has once again turned to the role of electric vehicles in providing backup power when the lights go out.

While running down your vehicle to keep your house warm could never be described as an ideal scenario, it's certainly a realistic one--and in the future, electric utility trucks could do the same for your whole street.

Electric vehicles use quite a lot of energy to move, and are typically equipped with large batteries to ensure range remains at a reasonable level.

Typical household appliances are rather less power-hungry though, which means the average electric car battery can actually power your home for a reasonable length of time.

During a power outage, the battery in a Leaf could allow you to keep essentials running for much longer than you'd expect--allowing you to keep food refrigerated, to cook, or to ensure you still have power to heat your home in cold weather.

Navigant Research suggests there are even health benefits.

It quotes figures from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, that an estimated 200 people in the United States die from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with fuel-burning heating equipment every year. This is the sort of heating equipment that many turn to when the power goes out--but faults can cause poisonous CO to enter your home.

An electric vehicle with a two-way power system then--like Mitsubishi's long-running 'MiEV House' concept--is both an efficient and cleaner way of ensuring you still have electricity in a power cut.

But not everyone can afford to put an electric car on the driveway, much less use it to run their home.

That's where electric utility trucks come in.

While still a concept, the use of a plug-in electric truck with a large battery pack could supply power to a whole street--while the engineers worked to restore power.

VIA Motors, the plug-in truck company backed by ex-GM man Bob Lutz, is exploring just such a concept with its range-extended vehicles.

High power outputs and hefty battery packs could supply enough electricity to cover essentials, as well as providing lighting and power for the engineers to carry out their job, rather than using a fuel-powered generator.

The theory isn't perfect of course. In the coldest of regions, batteries don't work at their optimum efficiency--and available power would be lower, particularly if the truck has driven a fair distance to whichever neighborhood it is needed. This is mitigated somewhat in VIA's case, since its trucks are range-extended and use gasoline generators, rather than being purely electric.

And even a small flow of power is better than no power at all, and such trucks may be all that is needed to ensure whole streets aren't left in the dark after powerful storms or during heavy snowfall.


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