Wilkinson on EVs: Energize Me!

Stephan Wilkinson
by Stephan Wilkinson

Interesting letter to the editor from a guy in Baytown, Texas in this week’s Automotive News. “Chevrolet should give an electric generator for home use to the purchaser of every new Volt,” Ralph Buerklin wrote. “Hurricanes, ice storms, tornados and thunderstorms wreak havoc with above-ground electric lines. That is an Achilles’ heel for electric vehicles.” Tell me about it. While the Volt has an on-board ICE to rely upon, a pure EV is a whole ‘nother story. We have a generator. We need it anywhere from two to five times a year here in semi-Upstate New York just to run the water pump, the furnace and the refrigerator—forget about lights, TV or computers. It typically happens when thunderstorms blow tree limbs across power lines, and if there are two things we have lots of, it’s thunderstorms and trees. Every 10 years or so, there’s a late-fall or early-spring ice storm that pulls down all the electric lines in entire counties. Last time it happened, some Hudson Valley homes were totally without power for two weeks and more. I can do without TV, but I’d hate to be stuck in a dark house with a dead electric car. Nor do I think those little portable job-site generators can do the job. Our 4,000-watt generator dies from too much current draw if the furnace and water pump come on simultaneously, which is why we’re upgrading to a 10,000-watt propane- powered unit. The new one will be the size of a St. Bernard’s doghouse, and installation is not a trivial matter. So add one of those to your Volt options list, since I doubt the guys who live in Grosse Pointe even know how to spell “emergency generator.”

Stephan Wilkinson
Stephan Wilkinson

I'm the automotive editor of Conde Nast Traveler and a freelancer for a variety of other magazines as well. Go to amazon.com and read more about me than you ever wanted to know if you do a search for either of my current books, "The Gold-Plated Porsche" and "Man and Machine." Been a pilot since 1967 (single- and multi-engine land, single-engine sea, glider, instrument, Cessna Citation 500 type rating all on a commercial license) and I use the gold-plated Porsche, a much-modified and -lightened '83 911SC, as a track car.

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4 of 22 comments
  • Chris Haak Chris Haak on Oct 24, 2008

    @Stephan Wilkinson: My bad on the trailer - for some reason that's what I was visualizing when I recalled the original letter to the editor, plus KixStart's comment made me think in those terms as well. My point still stands though that an EV that theoretically never needs to be plugged in (or certainly could do without being plugged in for a short-term - or even weeklong-plus power failure), so is no worse than a traditional gasoline-only car, if not better because the batteries are likely not 100% empty when parked and becuase it will go further on a gallon of gasoline than would most cars. JoeEgo made the same point above very well.

  • Stephan Wilkinson Stephan Wilkinson on Oct 24, 2008

    Actually, I now see that Farago illustrated this post with a tow-along generator...

  • Yankinwaoz Yankinwaoz on Oct 24, 2008

    Crazy idea... Why can't serial hybrid cars double as emergency power generators? Plug it in and power the house? Of course you can't leave it running in the garage because of carbon-monoxide.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Oct 24, 2008

    I don't see why you guys rely on fossil fuel so much (I do too). Watched a show tonight on local TV that showed a guy in Clarksville, TN who was powering a 2400 sq ft house off of solar array in his backyard. He also had a windmill on a post. The cost was around $20K and paid for itself. They charged big lead acid batteries that powered the house through cloudy days and at night. FWIW I saw an article that showed good lead acid batteries -not automotive batteries- can last over 10 and approaching 20 years. They are warranted for 10 years and prorated after that. Add to that a second solar array and you could power a small car like a corolla sized EV for all the local driving you'd need. I don't mind some really fun cars for fun but for day in and day out used I'd be happier wearing out an electric "appliance".