Electric vehicles powering communities through natural disasters | Corporate Knights

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Electric vehicles powering communities through natural disasters

Stephen Wu is an associate of research & planning with GLOBE advisors, with experience working on various domestic and international green economy research projects. Follow him on twitter.

Cars like the Nissan Leaf could provide a vital lifeline during power outages
Cars like the Nissan Leaf could provide a vital lifeline during power outages

Mass power outages and blackouts have always been of great concern during and after natural disasters. In addition to the devastation that can occur from flooding, collapsed buildings, and disruptions to basic infrastructure, the absence of electricity can shut down basic communications systems, adding to the anxieties of those most critically affected.

While much discussion revolves around what people can do to be better prepared, as well as what municipalities and provinces can do with respect to emergency response, an unlikely solution has emerged for providing backup power following natural disasters: the use of electric vehicles.

Electric Vehicles as an Emergency Power Solution

Most electric vehicles (EVs) are equipped with a high-capacity lithium-ion battery, which can be used as stationary backup power for homes capable of powering essential appliances and heating during natural disasters such as earthquakes.

Could it happen in Canada? In the evening of October 27th off the coast of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, an earthquake that measured 7.7 on the Richter scale rumbled the shorelines causing panic and concern over potential tsunami and aftershocks. While this quake was measured as Canada's largest earthquake since 1949, it was not "The Big One" that everyone is expecting. But what if “The Big One” had happened? How would we be dealing with the ensuing massive power outages?

Interestingly, the vehicle-to-grid (V2G)/ vehicle-to-home (V2H) technology allowing electricity sharing from EVs has been around for the past two decades, but has only recently been ready for pilot-phase testing around the world due to wider acceptance of EVs and the adoption of smart grid technology.

Following the 2011 earthquakes in Japan, Japanese carmakers including Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Toyota were all quick to promise the development of vehicles with V2G/V2H capability. As a result, Nissan unveiled its Leaf EVs with the capability to feed six kilowatts (kW) of electricity to homes and satisfy the average power needs of a Japanese household for up to two days, running only on the cars’ 24 kW lithium-ion battery. This would essentially allow the vehicles to act as power generators during outages.

Earthquake prone regions such as the Northwest Coast of North America could especially benefit from the rollout and adoption of such technologies. V2H innovations have the potential to revolutionize how communities react to natural disasters.

It could also give first-responders more time to reach and help people living in remote areas. For this to happen, however, public policy support, infrastructure improvements, faster market penetration of EVs and more public education are required to facilitate V2G/V2H advancements.

Innovation and Infrastructure Required for a V2G and V2H Future

According to GLOBE Advisors’ recent research on British Columbia's clean transportation sector, the province is at the forefront in EV technology innovation, as well as V2G/V2H research.

The City of Vancouver has shown leadership in this area by becoming the first jurisdiction in North American in 2008/9 to integrate charging station requirements as part of its residential building code. The City is also revisiting the code to upgrade the electrical capacity of charging infrastructure requirements from 120V circuit to 220V. This could pave way for future upgrades that would allow V2G/V2H technologies to be deployed across Vancouver, which in turn could play a role in the City's emergency preparedness plan.

The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) is researching micro-grid systems and EV power management systems to identify how V2G/V2H systems can be adopted effectively in order to safely power our homes and businesses when natural disasters strike.

Vancouver-based Big Green Island, which provides comprehensive solutions to help residential consumers, business, and municipalities introduce charging infrastructure is also engaged in promoting V2G technologies across the province.

REV Technologies, another Vancouver-based company is developing technologies that allow EVs to act as mobile generators that power equipment, buildings, and the utility grid itself. It is also looking at using its technology to optimize grid reliability and to accelerate the adoption of wind and solar power, which could promote more distributed generation in the province and decrease the reliance on utility-scale electricity transmission during power outages.

Realizing the Opportunities

While EVs are still gradually finding their place in the market, significant opportunities for these vehicles exist, not only as modes of transportation but also as sources of backup electricity to help power communities during natural disasters. These technological advances provide long-term benefits to the environment and also provide new business and employment opportunities.

According to Pike Research, approximately 90,000 light-duty vehicles and an additional 1,500 medium and heavy duty trucks will be enabled with V2G/V2H technology around the world by 2017. This would generate more than US $18 million in revenue for technology providers during that same time period (more here). British Columbia in particular is well positioned to realize many of these opportunities with a strong research and development cluster in the province.

GLOBE's research findings indicate that BC's clean transportation sector alone generated some $1.9 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) and employed approximately 23,390 full-time equivalent green jobs in 2011.

Clean transportation not only contributes to a cleaner environment, but also contributes to more climate-resilient communities. To learn more about the job creation and investment opportunities associated with BC's clean transportation sector, click here.

Although the big earthquake that residents along the Northwest coast of North America have come to expect has not yet arrived, it is increasingly important to realize that opportunities are currently available to build more resilient communities in order to better prepare for the full force of natural disasters that are becoming increasingly prevalent due to climate change.

While EVs and V2G/V2H technologies might have seemed like science fiction only a few short years ago, they may in fact be one solution for powering communities through earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Blog originally posted here.