24 December 2008

Prius: It’s Not Just a Car, It’s an Emergency Generator

Prius: It’s Not Just a Car, It’s an Emergency Generator
By Kate Galbraith
Which would you rather have in a winter emergency? (Photos: Toyota (top); Daniel Steger/OpenPhoto.net)

The Prius has a new use, and it does not involve driving. The Harvard Press — which serves the Massachusetts town of Harvard as opposed to the university — reported that the car’s battery helped keep the lights on for some locals during the recent ice storms.

The newspaper reports that John Sweeney, a resident who lost power, “ran his refrigerator, freezer, TV, woodstove fan and several lights through his Prius, for three days, on roughly five gallons of gas.”

Said Mr. Sweeney, in an e-mail message to The Press: “When it looked like we were going to be without power for awhile, I dug out an inverter (which takes 12v DC and creates 120v AC from it) and wired it into our Prius.”

According to the newspaper, “the device allowed the engine to run every half hour, automatically charging the car battery and indirectly supplying the required power.” (The Times reported on a similar venture last year.)

In fact, this development, which comes at a tough time for Toyota, which makes the Prius, may not be as strange as it sounds. Mr. Sweeney’s tinkering is along the lines of the “smart grid” technology that many utility executives and other experts say lies in our future. The idea is that the battery of an electric car — a plug-in, in most smart-grid scenarios — can feed power to the electricity grid when the grid needs it.

Even President-elect Barack Obama has endorsed this idea, as seen toward the end of this YouTube clip in which he said: “We’re going to have to have a smart grid if we want to use plug-in hybrids — then we want to be able to have ordinary consumers sell back the electricity that’s generated.”

Mr. Sweeney, out of necessity, got there first.

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