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You are here: > News > July 26, 2010

Priuses power house during 24-hour grid outage in Washington DC

A family in D.C. was able to power all their essential equipment, including two refrigerators and lights; and a lot more, including their TV, computer, some cooling fans, and a cell phone battery; by attaching 1000-Watt inverters to their two Toyota Priuses in their garage, using ~1/2 gallon of fuel per hour.

by Nora Maccoby-Hathaway

The Hathaways used their two Priuses to power their house during yesterday's 24-hour power outage in D.C.


Beginning at 3 p.m. EST on July 25th, 2010, tens of thousands of households throughout the D.C. and Southern Maryland region lost power as severe weather passed through the area. At the 24 hour mark, most of these customers remain without power, possibly due to the shortage of transformers in the immediate area. How does one cope with unexpected power loss when dependent on centralized power for everyday needs? 

Answer: Have a backup plan. One example of preparedness is provided below.

Our household has two Toyota Priuses parked in the garage. We decided to use the vehicles as backup power generation systems. 

The Toyota Prius and other hybrid vehicles cycle the engine on and off, depending on the demands of the vehicle when it is parked or driving through town. By connecting a standard 12V to 115V inverter rated at up to 1000 watts, it is possible to plug in household items of various inputs. We plugged in two refrigerators, two fans, four lights, a water cooler, a cell phone battery charger, a Mac laptop and two pieces of equipment for wireless Internet service. There was available wattage remaining to also plug in a television and cable TV modem, had we been interested in watching mainstream media programming. Fuel consumption over the first 24 hour period was roughly 1/4 gallon/hour for each Prius. With 20 gallons in containers, and ~10 gallons in each gas tank, we could generate power for three days before having to refuel.

When we initially plugged in the large refrigerator to one of the 1000 watt inverters, the refrigerator would not remain powered up. Since it was a 100-foot, 16 gauge extension cord, we decided to drive to Home Depot and pick up two 10 gauge cords, one for each inverter. Once we swapped out the 16 gauge cord with one of the 10 gauge cords, the refrigerator remained on continuously. All of the other items on the main level were plugged into the other inverter, except for an LED light in the basement bathroom which provided ample light in the bathroom at night. This light can be unplugged for use in other parts of the house as needed, then plugged back in for charging.

The propane gas grill took care of heating water for tea/coffee, as well as cooking. Spare propane tanks are stored as needed. On the roof, six solar water heating panels from Potomac Energy Projects will provide hot water for our ~120 gallon water heating system in the house in the winter, as well as our 80 gallon water heater for the showers, sinks, and clothes washers.

Had this been an EMP event scenario as outlined in [my] article, "Zero Hour: The Day The Grid Stood Still", grid-based equipment and most electronics plugged into the grid would have been compromised. The advantages of utilizing hybrid vehicles for backup power is that they can be used anywhere power is needed for extended periods of time. In fact, additional 12V batteries can be charged simultaneously while utilizing power from the Prius or other hybrid, and the battery connected to the inverter can be disconnected while the vehicle is driven elsewhere and still provide power for short periods of time. During "Snowmageddon 2010", power was out in the D.C. and surrounding area for days with temperatures below freezing. We had to evacuate family and friends to locations that had grid power. Our Prius was utilized for that purpose where the roads were cleared.

The purpose of this article was to show how important and applicable sustainable living can be to city dwellers, not just people living in remote areas. While the ease of remaining dependent on centralized power and other resources is usually a non-issue, in times of disaster, the unprepared must depend on those who took precautionary measures. What side of the fence do you want to find yourself in time of need? 

Here's the video we shot.

# # #

Originally posted on Nora's blog.  Posted here with permission.


  • Feel free to view/post comments below following the See also section.

See also

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Page postested by Sterling D. Allan July 26, 2010
Last updated August 10, 2010


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