Disaster Preparedness with a Prius

by Ben N on December 31, 2017

1,000 watt inverter in a Prius

I commonly get questions about battery backups, generators, solar panels, and other provisions which might be useful for disaster preparedness.

There were plenty of disaster-related comments on social media at the end of September, due to Hurricane Maria hitting the coastline of the United States.

And while most of us enjoy fantastic electric service on the U.S. Mainland, RIGHT NOW, there are STILL places in Puerto Rico either without power, or only intermittent electric service.

My friend, Jomel, lives in Puerto Rico. Today, he posted to Facebook about using his Prius as a backup source of power. The original post was in Spanish, but Jomel was kind enough to give me an English translation, which I’ll post here. He also gives a more concise description of how to use a Prius as a backup generator than I ever could.

“Here we go again, no electrical service since yesterday December 30, 2017 at 9:00 am, so I will celebrate the New Year using the Prius. At this moment I have consumed 2.0 kWh in 7 hours and 40 minutes and the engine has consumed 0.68 gallons of gas, equivalent to 0.0887 gallons per hour.

I connected a 1000 watt Xantrex the true sine wave inverter to the auxiliary battery of the Prius. That’s a 12 volt battery that is been charged by the 200 volt traction battery via a DC to DC converter.

The engine doesn’t has to be running all the time. In my case, I leave the car in the Ready Mode, in Parking with the A/C Off and windows down for air circulation.

The engine runs for 2 minutes to recharge the traction battery and then stops for about 30 minutes, so in an hour it only runs for about 4 – 6 minutes. It’s a very practical setup since it maximizes the engine utilization, and it only runs at about 1200 RPM.”

 

One big advantage of using a hybrid car as a generator is that the engine doesn’t have to run continuously. That saves on noise and exhaust. A car with an even larger battery, such as a Chevy Volt would be able to run an inverter for a significant amount of time before the engine would need to activate. Battery Electric Vehicles would have an even larger reserve of power, but would not be ideal for long-term power outages, as they also need to recharge from an electric source. I’m sure we’ll see dedicated DC solar charging in the future. For now, solar charging is left to the hobbyists and smaller projects. A few years ago, I did power my entire house directly from my Electric Motorcycle. It was also configured to be able to recharge from a single 96 cell solar module.

Disaster preparedness could be as simple as using the car and other equipment you already have. Just make sure to have an inverter that can be connected to the battery. At 1,000 watts, that’s enough power to run a refrigerator, LED lights, a radio or television, and charge cells phones. A simple extension cord can be used to route power to wherever you need it to go. For people living in areas prone to power failures, they could even wire up their homes with a generator input and manual transfer switch.

I followed up with Jomel about the current status of electricity in Puerto Rico, and this is what he had to say:

“The electric power has always been very unreliable, the grid was very old and vulnerable. After Hirricane Maria, all the system collapsed leaving 100% of the island without power. At this moment only about 60% of the people have power. Some experts say that some people may be without power until June 2018.”

 

You can certainly see why Jomel has been installing solar panels for a battery-based system.

Levels of disaster preparedness vary depending on your personal situation. Public infrastructure and support certainly varies. Make sure to be ready with works for you!

-Ben Nelson

Special thank you to Jomel Maldonado for sharing his info and photographs!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Scott January 11, 2018 at 5:33 pm

What a brilliant idea. Just realized I could do the same thing with my VW Jetta Hybrid. Seeing as I have an inverter I picked up during the Radio Shack going under sale, maybe I should just install that permanently in the trunk

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