Texas Tesla Owners Are Drawing Power From Their Cars During Blackouts

Widespread outages demonstrate both the promises and current shortcomings of the energy transition.
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As Texans gradually regain power after days of catastrophic outages amid freezing temperatures, some Tesla customers are grateful for their electric cars which provided critical emergency power.

For example, one Reddit user posted in the r/Teslamotors subreddit that, after running out of firewood, the family including an infant slept in their Model 3 with the heat on while it was parked in the garage. This can be safely done in an electric vehicle because it produces no emissions, but it would be fatal with a gas-powered car that emits toxic carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisonings have skyrocketed in Texas this week, and two people in Houston died from carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping in the family car in the garage while it was running.

Tesla also sells solar panels and a home battery called a PowerWall, and another Reddit user posted that he was "very grateful" to have one during the rolling blackouts. The non-emergency value proposition for solar installations with batteries is to power the home with stored electricity from the battery during peak usage hours with higher rates, but the battery can also serve as emergency backup.

Widespread outages and grid emergencies such as the current situation in Texas and the wildfire-related outages in California demonstrate both the promises and current shortcomings of the energy transition. On the one hand, microgrids with energy stored in local batteries and solar installations are obviously more resilient and resistant to widespread catastrophes. On the other hand, home batteries will only get you so far, and while vehicle-to-grid connections that could turn your electric car into a home battery look promising for evening out grid demand during normal times, it also raises concerns for emergency situations where people need their cars to evacuate on short notice. It's easy to ensure you have a quarter tank of gas at all times, but trickier to ensure the grid doesn't draw down vehicle charges below a certain amount (see, for example, this thread about the mysterious workings between a PowerWall and solar panels during the Texas outages).

Of course, non-electric cars can also serve as emergency generators of one form or another. The Ford F-150 Hybrid comes with an onboard generator that is typically marketed as a way to run power tools at work sites and whatnot, but it works perfectly well as a temporary emergency power source. Even an ordinary car's cigarette lighter, combined with an inverter, can provide enough power to, say, get the ignition going for a gas water heater (the car in question in that link happens to be a Tesla, but such a move can be done with any car with a cigarette lighter). Of all the many open questions about what a resilient grid of the future looks like, one thing is for sure: whatever's parked in your driveway won't solve the country's crumbling and ill-prepared infrastructure.