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Electric Vehicles Aid Climate Change-Related Disaster Recovery

In 2023 alone, the US experienced 28 weather and climate disasters that each exceeded $1 billion in losses. Climate change related storms and natural disasters are expected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.

Electric vehicles (EVs) must be integrated as a key part of disaster recovery strategies. EVs provide emissions-free electric energy during outages, which reduces the impact of recovery work on future climate change-related disasters. EVs can act as mobile batteries to provide electricity where it is needed most. And EVs provide emissions-free transportation for emergency recovery workers and supplies.

Let’s take a closer look at how EVs can be used to support natural disaster recovery efforts. We’ll also explore the infrastructure needed to support EVs in disaster recovery.

Disaster Response that Doesn’t Fuel Climate Change

Today’s disaster response plans typically rely on internal combustion engine vehicles and diesel generators, both of which emit greenhouse gases. While helping communities recover from severe weather, these machines contribute to a warming climate, increasing the chance of future severe weather events that cause even greater disasters.

Electric vehicles, on the other hand, do not emit greenhouse gases. They can be used as either a transport vehicle for supplies and workers, or as a power source. Because they lack the emissions of an internal combustion vehicle, EVs can even be parked inside a building. When equipped with at least two 120-volt power outlets, like those found in all buildings in the US, EVs can be used directly as a power source.

Mobile Emergency Energy Sources

Electric vehicles with 100 KWH batteries are portable emergency energy sources. After a natural disaster, they can be used to power homes, emergency shelters, or even small stores. When a battery has discharged to 80% of capacity, an EV can be driven to a charging station, recharged, and then driven back to the home or shelter to provide power for hours, or even up to several days.

An individual’s EV can power essential items within their home: a refrigerator, a separate freezer, a 1,000-watt space heater, a microwave, several laptops, and area lighting. A 100 KWH EV battery can provide power to all these appliances for two to three days.

A commercial EV can act as a mobile energy source at emergency shelters. Energy from EV batteries can be used to create mobile charging stations for displaced individuals to charge their cell phones. During extreme cold and heat, batteries from several EVs can power heaters or fans to help maintain a safe indoor temperature. EVs can also provide power for refrigerators at small stores or within emergency shelters, which can be vital for keeping lifesaving medications refrigerated.

Transport for Recovery Workers and Supplies

When disaster strikes, emergency recovery workers sometimes travel significant distances from home to assist in recovery efforts. When a hurricane hits Atlantic City, New Jersey, for example, recovery workers may travel from inland cities, like Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to provide aid. When traveling in an EV, they will need to recharge their batteries near Philadelphia before reaching Atlantic City.

An earthquake in San Francisco may require recovery workers to drive 50 or more miles to reach the city due to its unique nature as a metropolitan area located on a peninsula with access from the south.

No matter where the natural disaster occurs, emergency supplies may be located over 50 miles away from the disaster site. Recovery workers will need to drive to and from supply pick up areas to recovery locations, sometimes multiple times a day. Hundreds of recovery workers could be dispatched to complete this drive daily to ensure that a constant supply of materials is delivered to recovery areas.

Infrastructure to Support EVs during Disaster Recovery

To support this massive amount of transport via electric vehicles, EV drivers must have access to fast charging stations, which can charge batteries in less than 30 minutes, in several locations along the route. Convoys of 8-10 vehicles should have designated charging stations and charge times. This will prevent massive lines from forming at charging stations, which would delay recovery efforts.

When 25% of light vehicles and heavy-duty trucks responding to a disaster are EVs, temporary recovery charging stations will be required at every electric utility field office. Each charging station will need to deliver 100 KWH to light duty vehicles and 400 KWH to heavy duty trucks.

This means that electric utilities will need to provide 5000 KW of charging power to each field office from two physically isolated sources not impacted by the disaster, or from a large-scale stored energy source battery. Alternatively, this power could be from a traditional Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engine (RICE) emergency power source; however, this should be the last choice, as most RICE power sources are powered by burning fossil fuels.

Of course, most energy in the US is still generated by burning fossil fuels, so some greenhouse gases are emitted in the process of charging EVs. However, renewable energy sources continue to decrease in cost, making them a competitive alternative to fossil fuels. As renewables begin to produce more electricity throughout the US, electrification of vehicles will prove to be an even more climate-friendly solution.

Recover from Natural Disasters with the Help of EVs

It’s not only hypothetically possible for EVs to support communities after a natural disaster; many of the strategies described above have already been implemented across the globe. For example, Japan utilized EVs in disaster recovery after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Areas of the Philippines also relied on EVs for emergency power after a 2021 typhoon.

However, relying on EVs especially during extreme weather requires preparedness, as EV owners in the Midwest recently discovered. It is time for electric utilities to invest in preparing for expanded electric vehicle usage across the country so that EV fleets can be deployed to respond to the next natural disaster.

Are you an electric utility professional who is interested in learning more about how you can prepare your system to support EVs during a natural disaster? Contact us for a free consultation or check out our EV blog collection.

This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.

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