Wildfires forcing electric car owners to find new ways to turn on: NPR

Clarence Dold used Nissan Leaf in 2013 to operate his house during a four-day blackout in Santa Rosa, California, as a result of the Kincade fire.


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Clarence Dold used Nissan Leaf in 2013 to operate his house during a four-day blackout in Santa Rosa, California, as a result of Kincade Fire.


Lawrence Levee's evacuation call came at 4pm The Getty fire was only a few miles away. He and all his neighbors in Mandeville Canyon needed to evacuate.

He grabbed what he could and threw it in the light blue electric Chevy Bolt. His car battery only charged halfway, but it left him plenty of power to make a quick escape and then some.

But after driving around the next day, running errands in an area he did not know well, he was in a pickle. He couldn't find a charging station. And he had 25 miles left for his tank.

"Where are the cheap charging stations?" Levy asked a Facebook group for Bolt owners, where members have talked about how to recharge in an emergency.

Levee is one of hundreds of thousands of electric car drivers in California, many of whom are trapped in a statewide battle for electric power. When flames rip through rural and urban areas, the tools cut around a million customers off the web. The blackouts sometimes last for days at a time, forcing some electric car owners to find alternative ways to recharge.

It is an ironic relationship in a state that is home to more electric cars than any other. California has sold just under half of the electric cars in the US, EV Volumes, a group that tracks electric vehicle sales .

In Levee's case, he did not expect to be away from his house so far. Normally he would pull into the garage and plug in a solar powered battery. But that was impossible. Instead, he tried to look up a public charger nearby that he remembered driving past a few times. But when he got there, it was broken.

Feared "range anxiety" set in. If he didn't plug in soon, he could end up stranded.

But his reliable Bolt Facebook group came to the rescue. This is where the electric car fans commiserate, offer advice and do occasional gas-car-driver bashing. Lately, they've been talking about black outs. They pointed him to an app and he found a free charger in a mall a few miles away.

Levee has only owned his Bolt for eight months, and already he says he "will never return to a regular car." Despite the brief disadvantage and future fire evacuation, he notes that California has better electric vehicle infrastructure than any other state with 18,000 public charging stations, according to the California Energy Commission.

And some electric car owners use these charging stations in new ways.

Clarence Dold lives in Sonoma County, which had been devastated by the Kincade fire. Hidden owns a Nissan Leaf in 2013 and remained without power for four days.

But Dold found an ingenious use for his car: as a generator to operate his house.

All it took was a pair of jumper cables that he connected to Leaf's battery and a dictionary-sized converter. The inverter box converts direct current (direct current), the type that drives electric cars, to alternating current (alternating current), the electrical current that drives home.

After that, he ran a series of heavy extension cords into the main room of his ranch house. Through the blackout, Dold said, "Watched TV, and had a cold fridge and a couple of lights and things seemed normal."

It all cost around $ 200 – a fraction of the cost of a generator, which can run thousands of dollars.

Every few hours, Dold said, he would get back in the car to check the battery meter. He wanted to make sure the house did not drain the car too much electricity. If it did, he would unplug the cables and drive 5 miles away to recharge at a public charging station.

"The power outages are not over a wide area; this is not like a hurricane hitting Florida," he explained.

During the blackout, the rest of the neighborhood was a cacophony of gas and electric generators. Meanwhile, the Nissan Leaf was practically silent.

For Dold and other enterprising electric car owners like him, it is the secret sauce for surviving what is becoming the new normal in California.

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