Ford Motor Company issued a press release just before the holidays – and just before snow started falling in many parts of the U.S. It wasn’t a big announcement of a new vehicle or corporate shuffle, it was much geekier than that, but I was very happy to see it.
Basically, it said that the new Ford F-150 electric Lightning pickup truck will have the ability to directly charge up other electric vehicles. So if you get to your cousin’s place out in the boonies in your electric Ford Mustang Mach E, low on juice, and then the power goes out, if they have a Ford Lightning, you can charge up the Mustang right from the pickup truck. Or if you drive a Lightning and see a Chevy Bolt on the side of the road that overshot their range and can see past the pointless brand animosity, you can goose that EV with enough juice to get it to a charger. Ford says it will charge at about 20 miles of range in an hour, but that’s better (and cheaper) than calling a tow truck. Perhaps faster, too.
You might also remember how tales emerged from Texas last year during their big winter deep freeze about how some people were powering their homes or at least stuff in their homes (appliances, TVs, phones, etc.) for days by using the Pro Power Onboard generator feature on their Ford pickups while power was out across the region. The Ford Lightning takes this feature up a notch by allowing the pickup to charge other vehicles. Per Ford: “Customers can easily take advantage of this capability, using a widely available power adaptor to link the Ford Mobile Power Cord to their truck. Once connected to the 240-volt Pro Power Onboard outlet, customers can use the Mobile Power Cord to charge a range of all-electric vehicles that use the SAE J1772 charge port. This includes the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Ford E-Transit electric van and the all-new 2022 Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup, as well as vehicles from other manufacturers.” Of note: The new Lightning will “debut” a hotted-up 9.6 kilowatt “generator” capability, a couple of kilowatts hotter than the current PPO’s top output of 7.6 kilowatts. More power means faster charging – and more capabilities. And if 9.6 kilowatts is the “debut” capacity, we expect that capability to increase as new iterations of the Lightning come to market.
To be clear, this is not a revolutionary technological development, but it is something we will be hearing much more about in the near future. It’s really about using a vehicle as an on-site, grid-independent power source on a regular basis. And it’s a portent of a much different future in many ways from the Petroleum Era. Eventually, most all electric cars and trucks will have this ability. Let’s look at some typical scenarios. Also, acronyms are involved.
V2H, V2G, V2V And Beyond
Vehicle To Home (V2H): This is what was happening in Texas last winter. Basically, Ford F-150 drivers with the 7.2 kilowatt Pro Power Onboard generator option were able to essentially power a lot of their home’s appliances by running the pickup as a standing generator using the Pro Power Onboard feature, and using the 120-Volt outlets in the pickup bed. The “Vehicle To Home” idea is no different than running a home off of a gas-powered generator like millions have done over the decades, but it’s now a generator you can drive that doesn’t use gas. The new Lightning will take this up a notch as well. Rather than running a half-dozen extension cords to the fridge, TV, aquarium and so on, it will soon be possible to just plug the F-150 Lightning into the house directly and run things “as normal” while the battery holds out. You might want to keep the electric heaters off to extend the battery’s life, but when it comes to things like (modern) refrigerators, computers, TVs and other modern electronics, the current load is surprisingly light. A fully charged F-150 could power a typical home for several days or longer depending on the electrical load and battery capacity. For those that live off-grid (or just want uninterrupted power in case of an outage), adding solar panels and an in-house storage battery system to a home can complete a non-gas power loop that could keep the lights on indefinitely when the local power grid is down. This technology exists now, and is in use now in many places, especially in China with some far-flung rural areas often have unreliable electrical service. Elon Musk took this idea to the mega-level with a battery installation (using batteries also found in Tesla cars) in Australia that powers 30,000 homes. Similar facilities are under construction worldwide, but a critical mass of connected electric vehicles will essentially accomplish the same thing with minimal infrastructure changes.
Vehicle To Grid (V2G): You’re at home. Outside, it’s baking hot. The AC whirs away as you go about your day working from the home office. Suddenly, you get a text message from your local utility: The power is out in your area due to a transformer failure at the local substation, and the power company would like to pull power from your F-150, which is plugged into your V2H charger at the moment, powering your home like an uninterrupted power supply, which is why you didn’t know the power grid failed. The power from your truck will still power your home, but it will also flow “backwards” through the local electrical system, and coupled with the contributions from all of the other electric vehicles in the area, plus power from home solar systems and home storage batteries, power can be restored in your neighborhood until the grid is repaired. You won’t see any change in how your home system works, but power will be flowing out from your home into the larger power grid, and the V2G system operations are essentially transparent to you. This is known as a Vehicle To Grid system, and while it’s still a vision of the future, that future is nearly here. The power utilities will need to re-jigger the grid in ways in order to make it possible, but on balance, it’s a small technical switching problem solved with off-the-shelf tech. Most likely, it will be an option you’ll have to agree with from the power utility.
Vehicle To Vehicle (V2V): This is the core of Ford’s announcement, and at a basic level, it’s simple: Plug one electric vehicle into another and charge it, using a standard EV charging cord. Obviously, that will draw down the charge in the donor vehicle, but if grid-based charging is not too far away, splitting up the pool of electrons could allow both vehicles to make it home or to a hotter grid-based charging option. And the capabilities and capacities of these systems is only going to grow over time.
An Electrified Future
We’ve powered small things from our cars ever since someone figured out the cigarette lighter adapter decades ago. I remember my father grousing recently that he couldn’t get a hot coffee kettle to work at a frigid college football tailgater, and I had to explain to him that his car battery and the small 12-volt 150-watt inverter he bought for $29 did not have the capability to power an 1,100-watt kettle. But the Ford F-150 Lightning and other F-150 models with the Power Pro Onboard option can do it no problem, and heating up some hot coffee on a cold December football morning will be the least of their capabilities.
Car (and truck) makers know the potential of this technology, both at the vehicle-to home level on up to powering towns and, in due time, whole cities during a natural disaster, heat wave or just a heavy blanketing of snow. Society runs on electricity. The power grid will be with us for the decades to come, but the new generation of electric vehicles, coupled with home batteries and solar installations, will eventually be able to tie into these larger systems to give us a fallback option when needed. It’s just one new part of our all-electric future.