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PG&E will pilot bidirectional electric car charging in California

A woman charges an electric car
Enlarge / If you’re going to charge your car at home, why not also use it as a storage battery when it’s just parked there?

Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

Disaster preparedness is becoming a bit more mainstream as the effects of climate change and the fallibility of human institutions become more clear. The auto industry has followed this trend, with more than one automaker pointing to the fact that an electric vehicle is essentially a giant backup battery that could power your home for a few days in the event of an emergency.

Now, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) will begin testing bidirectional charging in California with new pilot programs announced this week at General Motors and Ford.

Bidirectional charging got its first big boost after the 2011 Tōhoku-Oki earthquake, and in 2017, Nissan told Ars that several thousand EV-to-grid installations had already been completed in Japan. But at the time, the company had no immediate plans to enable the function here in the US. Since then, Nissan has conducted other vehicle-to-grid experiments, such as powering a convenience store.

Ford has made more noise about the forthcoming F-150 Lightning’s vehicle-to-home ability. When Ford President and CEO Jim Farley first revealed the name of Ford’s electric pickup, he also mentioned that the truck could “power your home in an outage.” This functionality will require Ford’s 80-amp charging station, which can supply a home with up to 9.6 kW of electricity. (For context, the F-150 Lightning will come with either 98 kWh or 131 kWh useable-capacity battery packs.)

General Motors might be late to the EV pickup party, but on Wednesday, it was first to announce that it is working with PG&E on vehicle-to-home technology. This summer, the two companies will begin lab tests with different GM EVs before starting to test vehicle-to-home connections at some customer homes. The two companies say they plan to open up to a larger customer trial by the end of this year.

On Thursday, Ford and PG&E revealed similar plans at the CERAWeek conference in Houston. Few details have been made public so far, though we know that unlike in the GM pilot, PG&E will not be able to remotely operate the vehicle-to-home feature on demand. And unfortunately, neither the Ford Mustang Mach-E nor the e-Transit will be capable of bidirectional charging; it will just be the F-150 Lightning.

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