How to Charge an Electric Car (Even When the Power Goes Out)
Electric Car Backup Charging
It’s every electric car owner’s worst nightmare. Plugging your vehicle into the outlet and seeing no charge due to a power outage.
Unfortunately, this scenario is more likely than you think, especially in storm zones and locations that have regular rolling blackouts. The worst part is that your need to drive doesn’t stop just because the power goes out. In fact, it may increase.
Below, we’ll discuss how you can protect yourself and charge an electric car even during a power outage. First, some basics.
How to Charge an Electric Car
If you’re charging your electric car at home (which most Americans do), you have two charger options: Level 1 and Level 2.
Level 1 charging uses a 120-volt residential outlet. The charging cable plugs into your standard wall outlet using three prongs and into your car using a standard J1772 connector that comes with the vehicle. This is the easiest, least expensive way to charge your electric vehicle; just make sure you’re using a dedicated branch circuit so nothing else draws power away from the charger.
Level 2 charging (aka “fast” charging) is faster because it uses a 240-volt AC plug. It also requires a dedicated circuit branch of 20 to 100 amps. Many homes already have 240-volt service, but if you don’t, you’ll need to get it specially installed.
How Long Does It Take to Charge an Electric Car at Home?
The length of time it takes to charge an electric car at home depends on your charging setup. Since Level 1 chargers use a standard 120-volt outlet, they can take 20 hours or more, as they replenish 2 to 5 miles of their driving range per hour. So, if your vehicle has a maximum range of 100 miles on a full charge, it would take 20-50 hours of charging to completely replenish.
Level 2 chargers, using their 240-volt outlet, replenish 10 to 60 miles of their driving range per hour. Using the same maximum full charge capacity of 100 miles, it would take between 2 and 10 hours to recharge completely, so you could easily do it overnight.
Charging Your Electric Car During a Power Outage
We’re still living in the early days of electric vehicles, so if your power goes out at home, there’s no guarantee you’ll find an available public charging station nearby. Unlike with gas stations, you can’t count on charging stations being on every other corner. Plus, even if you have one nearby, the power may have gone out there too.
That means you’ll be responsible for having the necessary backup power to charge your electric vehicle during a blackout. You have two main options.
Emergency Backup Generators
The general rule of thumb for backing up an electric vehicle charger is that you need a generator that produces a minimum 10kW of backup power, especially for a Level 2 “fast” charge.
That rules out most portable electric generators, which are mainly designed for smaller emergency backup items like lights, refrigerators, sump pumps, etc. Extra-large emergency portable generators can do the trick, but the downside is they are usually very heavy and difficult to move around. Also, if you use one to charge your electric car during an outage, you may not have many extra kilowatts to power anything else. Finally, since an electric car charger requires a dedicated circuit, you would need to connect your portable generator to a manual transfer switch for it to provide power.
The more effective route for backing up your electric car charger, along with the other essentials in your home during an outage, is by using a permanently installed home standby generator. Depending on the model, standby generators provide anywhere from 10,000 kW to more than 50,000 kW of power and can completely back up your home.
Standby generators use an automatic transfer switch to automatically kick on during an outage, so there’s no manual setup. You’ll be able to plug your electric car charger into the outlet as normal. If you’re serious about fast charging your electric car during a blackout, you’ll get a standby generator installed.
Solar Power for Car Charging
Your other main option for charging your electric car during a power outage is solar energy. This is a much bigger investment than a standby generator, but if you care enough about the environment to own an electric car, it might be up your alley.
Essentially, solar panels on your roof would collect the sun’s energy all day and convert it into useable electricity that could charge your vehicle. You would need to store the energy in a solar battery system, such as the PWRcell from Generac, in order to use it at night, though.
Keep in mind that nobody installs a solar system just to have backup power for their electric car. It’s a green lifestyle change that will impact the entire way you power your home. You can learn more about setting up a home solar system here.
In a way, for electric car owners, having reliable home backup power is more important than for anyone else. During an extended blackout, some people might drive to a friend, family member, or hotel to wait things out. If your electric car isn’t charged, though, you’re stuck right where you’re at—in the dark.
We recommend a properly-sized home standby generator as the best way to charge an electric car during a power outage. If you have questions about choosing a generator or sizing, please contact our product experts, and they’ll be happy to help!