Nov 01

A Chevy Volt as an emergency electricity generator

 

By Mark Brooks
Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor

 

Frankenstorm Hurricane Sandy ripped into the U.S. East Coast on Monday night leaving 5 million people without power. My family is out of harm’s way but sadly millions are now affected by flooding and long term power outages. Is this what global warming has in store for us this winter? More to the point, if my home lost power, how am I going to keep the beer cold and my wife warm?

Surviving any kind of apocalypse or natural disaster is about being prepared so I drive over to the local hardware store to do some shopping. I am not alone, a small crowd has gathered around the remaining pricy portable electrical generators. But as the owner of a 2012 Chevy Volt, I am blessed with having another, better option. I pick up a 750 Watt Motor Master DC to AC power inverter, on sale for $59. My Chevy Volt is now ready to do double duty as an emergency generator.

At its core the Volt is a phenomenal gas-powered generator with a huge battery buffer. It is far more advanced, higher quality, quieter, cleaner and far more fuel efficient than any store bought generator. All you need is a DC-to-AC Power inverter.
 


The use of a 12-volt DC-to-AC inverter is not unique to the Volt, and can be used with other conventional cars.
 

Power inverters take the 12 volts supplied by a vehicle’s DC electrical system and convert them to the 120 volts AC power that you need in your house.

There are two ways of installing an inverter in your car. The easy way is to plug a small inverter into a cigarette lighter. If all you need to do is power no more than two 100 watt or less items then purchase two cheap travel inverters and plug one into the Volts IP console cigarette lighter and the other into one of the two plugs in the floor console.

But in my case I need more juice so decided to spend $59 for a 750 Watt Motor Master unit that is purpose built to be directly wired to a cars 12v battery. That’s right, the Volt has a 12V car battery just like every other car on the road. Hard wiring to this battery will allow the maximum amperage in a larger inverter to be safely used without stressing the cars electrical system and potentially blowing a fuse. But don’t go looking under the hood for this car battery, in fact there is no need to pop the hood at all. The 12 volt battery is conveniently located in the truck.

Before we continue with the details of my specific solution, I need to review some warnings, just in case someone reading this wants to try for a Darwin award (see www.darwinawards.com for details).

First I am not a GM engineer. I am relating a setup that seems to work for my 2012 Chevy Volt. I take no responsibility for anything and could be totally wrong about everything (that should keep the lawyers happy).

Next, to work as a backup power source the Volt needs to be on and left running, potentially for days.

WARNING: when the Volt is on it should be in a well ventilated area and in park. The Volt’s charge-sustaining gas engine can start at any time (regardless of its battery charge level), especially if it is cold. The engine produces carbon monoxide which you cannot smell or see and can KILL YOU very quickly. Every year dozens of people die this way, often by the exhaust from a portable generator. Remember, natural selection deems that some individuals serve as a warning to others, don’t be that person.

Once the Volt is on, it is best to lock the car to make sure your kids, large dogs or nosey neighbors don’t either turn off the car accidentally or move it from park to drive. If the Volt is turned off, juice from the large battery/charge sustaining engine is shut off and you can quickly drain your car’s 12-volt accessory battery, and then be unable to start the volt again.

Next warning: I understand that using a 12-volt DC to 120-volt AC inverter is not the most efficient way to get energy out of a Volt but it is the easiest and I don’t think it violates any warranties (that I know of). No doubt some want-to-be engineer reading this might ask, why limit yourself to just hooking up to the 12-volt car battery in the trunk when you have all that high voltage under the hood? Remember, you are busy trying to SURVIVE a hurricane. Don’t over think this, work with the Volt’s systems, not against them.

Hooking up and running the Motor Master Inverter is explained in its instruction manual, does not require any tools and takes only five minutes. I spent four minutes of that time finding the 12-volt battery which is located in the trunk where you would normally expect to see a spare tire. Just hook positive(red) to positive and negative (black) to negative. If you get this wrong you can fry your inverter. Be care, 12 volts can still kill under the right conditions.

I now keep my inverter in the storage bin in the trunk, right next to the battery. I am ready at a moment’s notice for tailgate parties or camping, as well as surviving household power outages.

WATTAGE CAPACITY PLANNING: With any emergency generator, the amount of power available is limited and should be used carefully. In my case I tested running an extension cord from the inverter in the car trunk into our kitchen. It appeared to be enough to power a reading lamp, our coffee maker and the fridge. My Inverted has a digital display of power in use. I would recommend this. Used carefully, my small 750 Watt inverter seemed surprisingly capable with a 1500 Watt surge capacity and a 600 Watt continuous load capacity.
 


 

I also have a smaller 100 Watt inverter plugged into a cigarette lighter inside the Volt to act as a charging station for my laptop.

Here is an idea of some of the power used by common devices you might want to run (actual figures may vary, check appliance labels/manuals for exact figures):

• Shaver: 15 Watts
• CFL Bulb: (75-watt equivalent) 20 Watts
• Laptop computer: 50 Watts
• Normal 60-watt light bulb: 60 Watts
• Can Opener: 100 Watts
• (Ed. note: Manual can opener: zero watts; two reasonably dexterous hands)
• Portable fan: 100 Watts
• Video game player: 200 Watts
• Electric blanket: 200 Watts
• Curling Iron: 100-200 Watts
• 42-inch LCD TV: 100-300 Watts
• Small coffee maker: 400-700 Watts
• 16 cu. ft. refrigerator (AC): 600+ Watts **
• Microwave: 500-1500 Watts
• Kettle: 1,200 Watts
• Hair dryer (on high): 1500 Watts

** Note: Refrigerators, although turned “on” all the time, actually cycle on and off as needed to maintain interior temperatures. You might want to consider unplugging it while making coffee so you don’t accidentally trip the fuse in the inverter.
Now that your Volt is working as an emergency generator, how does it compare to the other emergency generators? A lot depends on how much money you want to spend on the inverter. There are a lot of DC to AC Car inverts on the market ranging in price from $20 to $300. For basic lights almost any of them will provide some sort of power, but you need to be aware of the variations in quality and amount of power provided (wattage). Also make sure you are purchasing an inverter compatible with a 12-volt CAR battery, not a truck or RV battery.

Most inverters below $200 are not true sine wave inverters but rather produce choppy stepped AC power. This is ok for basic needs but bad if you plan on running medical equipment or even an ink jet printer. True sine wave inverters are guaranteed for optimum compatibility with sensitive medical equipment, computers, motors or televisions, but are more expensive. Make sure to read the instructions that comes with the inverter and remember to plan what you are plugging in carefully to stay under both the continuous and a max surge rating produced by the inverter.

The Volt’s large battery can provide 10-plus kwh which can last hours, even days on its own (depending on your power requirements). Once this runs down you can rely on the Volt’s start-stop charge-sustaining (CS) gas engine. The CS engine is purpose built to run as an electrical generator and automatically starts/stops when the battery charge gets too low and needs a boost. That’s good for big savings on fuel and longer intervals between short engine runs.

Another advantage of using the Volt is the reduced noise and exhaust. Normal emergency Generators are loud and always running and can keep you and your neighbors awake at night. But when your Volt runs, you can barely hear it, or smell it. And of course, sometimes it’s not running at all! There’s just no comparison.

In a post-apocalypse world, the Chevy Volt rules!

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 1st, 2012 at 5:55 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

COMMENTS: 57


  1. 1
    Sean

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (6:31 am)

    I may not be a Chevy Volt owner but in my own opinion it would be great that if you added some step by step photos so that other Volt owners can see the step procedures done correctly so that they don’t put those generator wires on the wrong parts of the battery because of course no body wants there Volt killed and I sure wouldn’t either but still on the positive side great article when it comes to surviving a natural disaster such as hurricane Sandy keep up the good work on your articles.


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    NZdavid

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (6:42 am)

    Timely topic!

    It has allways baffled me that GM has not taken advantage of the Volt’s features and made a power point as an optional extra. Not only for emergencies but for road warriors as well.

    I would also use a RCD at the Volt end as well, for safety’s sake.


  3. 3
    James McQuaid

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (6:57 am)

    Very timely; perhaps this well help someone in the afflicted area. As always, an excellent post from Mark Brooks.


  4. 4
    Mark Z

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (6:59 am)

    Great report. Loved the warning section. The only problem are the lines of cars waiting to get fuel because of the demand in some areas.

    The Volt and many other vehicles have the built-in USB connector to help charge a cell phone, perhaps the most important “appliance” to keep charged up and ready in an emergency. For those who have cars without the USB, then get an cigarette lighter adapter ASAP. Smart phones and tablets can double as handy “flashlights” with their bright screens and apps that are designed to maximize the brightness. The iPhone emits a very bright light when ready to take a movie with the flash on, however it drains the phone battery quickly. This is why it is important to have a charge cord handy for the car if you don’t have the inverter or USB outlet.

    It is worth repeating the warning to park the Volt outside with the exhaust pipe pointing away from the home. Having a battery CO detector in the house would help monitor unhealthy conditions but should never be an excuse for not moving the vehicle outside and away from the home.

    Phillips has a dimmable 4 watt LED bulb that emits 40 watts (320 lumens) of light at Home Depot. Model 9290002240. Extremely efficient.


  5. 5
    Mark

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (7:28 am)

    Here’s some information from EVA/DC. They are going to talk more about it at their next meeting.

    http://evadc.org/2012/10/31/using-an-ev-to-power-a-home/


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    joe

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (7:48 am)

    An inverter of the size described by the author would never power my refrigerator. Folks, what I’m saying is what works for someone may not work for you. Do your homework and ask a lot of questions before you buy.


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    Loboc

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (8:01 am)

    V2H would be helpful in a power outage situation. A 53kw generator can run an entire 200amp panel.
    The main problem with using gasoline is that it takes electricity to run the gas pumps.

    @sean – inverters come with instructions. :)


  8. 8
    MrEnergyCzar

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (8:05 am)

    Great article. Well explained. Whats the largest safest inverter size for this method of set-up? 750watts continuous with 1,500 max surge? Anyone know?

    Thanks
    MrEnergyCzar


  9. 9
    nasaman

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (8:33 am)

    Mark Z: Great report. Loved the warning section.

    MrEnergyCzar: Whats the largest safest inverter size for this method of set-up? 750watts continuous with 1,500 max surge?

    I agree! And let me add a comment as an electrical engineer/physicist who’s lived through numerous Florida hurricanes… Gasoline generators are ubiquitous, but they’re heavy, noisy, dangerous (due to CO), somewhat of a nuisance to store when unneeded and expensive. Several years ago I therefore switched to 12V DC to 120V AC inverters, which are superior in several important ways: Safe, silent, light weight, small, easily stored and inexpensive. I presently own a 2,500W inverter and have run 2 refrigerators as well as all house lighting, microwave, TVs, etc for days running it off of my car’s 12V battery. The one major caveat is that you’ll need to limit the operation of refrigerators, fans, & other motor-driven appliances to just a few hours at a time —then crank up your car at a fast idle rate for
    a few minutes to recharge the battery. So the routine is to cool down your refrigerator/freezer for a few hours, crank your car to recharge the battery for 10 min or so, and repeat. Easier, safer and lots quieter than a traditional “Honda-type” generator —and MUCH better than chasing down dry ice every 2-3 days to keep your food from spoiling!

    /One example is a Power Bright Model #PW2300-12, $249 at any Home Depot


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    Raymondjram

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (8:42 am)

    GM must add an onboard AC inverter to the next generation of Voltec vehicles. The Ford Escape Hybrid had one since it was first sold. I know well, although I never bought the vehicle, because I did buy the User Manual and later found on eBay a used inverter for sale, and bought it. Now I have it installed on my Chevy Equinox so it may be the only GM vehicle here in Puerto Rico with an onboard inverter (as it should had been when first sold). The 2012 Ford Escape Hybrid manuals are here:
    http://owner.ford.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Owner/Page/OwnerGuidePage&year=2012&make=Ford&model=Escape%20Hybrid

    Pare 77 of the Owners Guide covers the Power Point Outlet which has a 150 watt capacity. Not much but enough for most portable devices. The 2013 Escape isn’t hybrid anymore, but perhaps the other Ford hybrids still have the onboard inverter.

    I read somewhere that the Chevy Silverado Hybrid does have an onboard inverter as an accessory for remote construction sites, but don’t remember what its power output was, probably up to 2.4 KW.


  11. 11
    kdawg

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (8:47 am)

    are those small wires coming off the battery sized large enough?

    750W / 12VDC = 62.5A

    Those look like 12AWG wires, which are only rated for 20A.


  12. 12
    kdawg

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (8:52 am)

    Get exercise and don’t have to worry about gas.
    Bike generator good for 100W (275W peak). Could be good in a pinch, esp. with a bank of lead acid batteries for storage.

    http://www.windstreampower.com/Bike_Power_Generator.php

    Or a DIY one here
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Bicyle-Power-for-Your-Television,-Laptop,-or-Cell-/

    bpggravetytrainermanulcoverpicture.jpg


  13. 13
    ClarksonCote

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (9:04 am)

    Nice article!

    Keep in mind, there are some concerns that this will void your warranty. I did an article for Charged EV’s magazine on using the Volt as a backup generator, and despite being through the 12V battery as this article suggests, GM still suggested doing this would void the warranty.

    You can see the article in detail, along with the warning form GM, in Charged’s April/May issue archive on their website: http://www.chargedevs.com/content/inside-magazine


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    ClarksonCote

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (9:06 am)

    MrEnergyCzar:
    Great article.Well explained.Whats the largest safest inverter size for this method of set-up?750watts continuous with 1,500 max surge?Anyone know?

    Thanks
    MrEnergyCzar

    1000W with 2000W surge is still acceptable, possibly even a bit higher. The Volt’s APM can handle about 175A of load including all accessories, so 1000W still allows for some reasonable margin there.


  15. 15
    kdawg

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (9:06 am)

    Also Via Motors, Vtrux onboard generator is rated for 150kW with 15kW exportable.


    “Exportable power
    for the work site
    The VTRUX power export
    module option provides
    15 kW at 30 amps of onboard mobile power. A utility
    grade output module, now
    in development, is designed
    to provide 50 kW of mobile
    emergency power to keep
    critical facilities online.
    With nearly $50,000 worth
    of mobile power built into
    VIA’s work truck, some fleet
    customers say, “It’s like getting a free truck with their
    generator!”

    VTrux.jpg


  16. 16
    Peter

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (9:09 am)

    The concern with any inverter at 12 volts is the current. 720 watts is about 60amps.
    Sort of load lights and aircon pulls.
    A fully charged car starter battery of medium size would only last about an hour at this load.
    I wonder what continues load the Hi voltage to 12 volt converter in the Volt is sized for.
    Would be good to find out before doing this I think 1kw or more would pushing a bit.

    The other problem with car starter batteries is they are not design to be discharged,
    just a few hundred amps to start an engine then on float charge.
    It will reduce its life if used this way.

    Note. To recharge a flat starter battery takes about 24 hours, so running an engine to recharge is not a few minutes job.

    Would be best to change to a Motor home RV type battery, that is designed for deep discharge and engine starting if been used often for high power inverter use.

    Power sockets generaly have 8 amp fuses, so max about 100watts and get hot if run at this load.

    Like the write up.

    Take care


  17. 17
    Randy

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (9:51 am)

    You could have an extra large alternator installed and a second battery as well. I already use a deep cycle for starting and there is a second battery tray on the opposite side of the truck,normally used for campers. Saw a welder once use this setup for thawing out frozen water pipes and meters .


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    JDan

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:16 am)

    Will the Volt automatically recharge the 12v battery when it runs low? Will it recharge from the big propulsion battery or the ICE? In an ICE only car you can drain the 12v battery completely and only if you start the engine manually before depleted too much, or jump it to start the engine will it recharge the 12v battery.

    Inquisitive minds want to know. :)


  19. 19
    George S. Bower

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:25 am)

    Good article.

    Mountain Mode might be useful here.

    Once you go to CS (ie you drained the HV battery) Switch to MM and let the car charge to it’s MM SOC. Then switch out of MM and drain down.


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    John

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:34 am)

    What would be even better, and run your current electrical wiring, is if the J1772 connector were reversible. You could get 1500 watts from a 120 connection and 3300 from a 240 V connection. There’s already a super-inverter built into the car, and the engine is connected to a large AC generator.


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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:42 am)

    The 12VDC battery in the Volt is not a “starter” battery. It is described as a “flooded cell” design, and should be compared to the control battery in a large UPS installation. It never has to literally crank the engine, so it is not designed to supply those large pulses. The Volt’s engine is started using the smaller of the two propulsion motors turning the crankshaft directly, powered by the 300+ volt EV drive system. This is perhaps the most important factor behind the smooth transition to CS-mode.

    JDan: Will the Volt automatically recharge the 12v battery when it runs low? Will it recharge from the big propulsion battery or the ICE?

    There is a DC to DC converter which transforms the 300VDC drive voltage to 12VDC for charging the battery. I don’t know if this system works both ways to allow “jumping off” from this battery. I would tend to doubt it. I don’t know what the rating of the converter unit is, but I doubt any inverter attached to the 12VDC battery should be sized for any higher output. Does anyone have this figure?

    There was a lot of discussion in the early days of this site concerning emergency power directly out of the Volt. In theory, most of what you’d need is already on board. It seems as though the controller for the drive motors could be used to produce 60Hz instead, and direct the power through the J1772 power port (a special wire with conventional connectors at the far end would be supplied with the option). A switch (perhaps mechanical, for safety) would be thrown somewhere under the hood to enable the mode (this system would also disable the drive motors, in order to use the controller). It’s possible that this system would require an expensive transformer, but perhaps the controller could limit the output voltage by itself.

    GM’s objection to any such proposition seems to have been motivated by the need to protect the Volt’s first-gen battery pack, and by the possibility of customer abuse (with severe legal consequences. Remember the “fire flap?”). I still think that a system utilizing the car’s generator only (with it’s high-voltage generator mode through the controller) would have been safe enough. Perhaps with more robust batteries in future generations this attitude will change.

    This would likely be offered as an option, for an extra cost. I wonder how many would order it? This expected number would likely determine whether or not any such option is ever offered (before Voltec is cheap enough to include in every car).

    EDIT:
    John,

    Oopsie. Comments that cross … ;-)


  22. 22
    DonC

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:52 am)

    Great article! In addition to Clarkson’s article in Charged EV’s there has been extensive discussion about using the Volt as a backup power supply in the forums. The conclusion from that discussion was that the best method was to use an unused circuit which is accessible from the trunk.

    Also note that, as Mark says, you want to make sure the Volt is ON. This allows the HV battery to charge the 12v battery. If the HV battery is depleted, the genset will do that same. Note that, unlike a standard ICE vehicle which will run continuously until you turn it off, the Volt will cycle the genset on and off as needed.

    Going forward, for the Nissan Leaf and the i-Miev you can get an inverter that connects to the HV battery directly through the CHAdeMO connector. That box won’t work of course with the Volt because the Volt doesn’t have a DC connector, but, as the SAE DC charger becomes standard on GM’s electric vehicles (it should be on the Spark), that should be an additional option, assuming that the box is available with the SAE connector.

    Totally agree with kdawg that a built in connections such as the ones that Via Motors is talking about would be perfect. Should not be a big deal to implement and it would be a huge selling point to millions of people. It’s one of those little add-ons that seems like a gee-gaw but would have tremendous appeal to certain people and would be useful to many many more. Definitely a good idea.


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    DonC

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:58 am)

    JDan: In an ICE only car you can drain the 12v battery completely and only if you start the engine manually before depleted too much

    As Mark has said, the Volt needs to be turned ON. If you have sufficient SOC in the HV battery the ICE won’t come on. The Volt will just use the HV battery to supply juice to the 12v battery through the APM (auxiliary power module).


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    unni

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (11:13 am)

    I think as a emergency response, GM should advise people a way to use the Gas generator of Volt ( i think Mitsubishi did it when japan quakes hit ) than doing hacks.

    say include a mode as generator mode


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    flmark

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (11:22 am)

    Add this to the list of things capable of being powered by the Volt- AN ELECTRIC WATER HEATER:

    http://www.geappliances.com/heat-pump-hot-water-heater/

    Of course, the water heater has to be set to heat-pump-only mode, which consumes 550 watts.

    I have often advocated that setting yourself up for energy efficiency gets two birds with one stone. If your electrical needs are low, then your BACK UP energy supply requirements are also low. On my thread of Solar, Solar and more Solar http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?12413-Solar-Solar-and-More-Solar the FIVE TON solar hybrid ac system I discuss is capable of being operated by a standard 5kw PORTABLE generator WHILE all ceiling fans, water pump and home entertainment equipment are in operation. The only time I would have to turn off the AC is while cooking.

    While I have solar hot water heating in FL, this is not an option in NY (due to trees over the house). I went with GE Geospring Hot Water Heater as the next best option. Obviously, if I want to run the hot water heater or other 220v load, I have other items to deal with (like securing the house breaker and plugging into an existing 220v outlet). But since everyone here is focused for the moment on emergent needs, you should stop to think about where your hot water will come from.


  26. 26
    Jackson

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (11:43 am)

    kdawg,
    If your emergency takes place in cold weather (as often happens), a TEG (thermoelectric generator) can generate small amounts of current. (Most are intended for outside, when camping or when desperate to charge a cellphone):

    30ksghe.gif

    Aside from camping, and industrial units, there are modules intended to be installed on wood stoves or other home sources of heat (it is mostly at the level of home experimentation at the moment). I know that at least one wood stove was marketed some years ago with the TEG installed, but I can’t find any trace of it.


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    Jackson

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (11:56 am)

    I know of a guy, when faced with a winter power failure, who went to the store to buy some garden hoses. He attached one end to the drain fitting on his gas water heater and looped the hose back and forth on the floor of his apartment (with the far end in a drain). He was kept warm, as his neighbors shivered or evacuated. He was only out the cost of the hose (and some extra for utilities, though it was only for a day or two).


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    pjkPA

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (12:02 pm)

    NO WAY… should you be trying to run anything but small electronics with this set up….

    600 watts at 12VDC is 60A.. that requires a no.8AWG wire to carry that load. This load will VERY quickly drain a battery…and I bet no charging system is rated at 60a… not sure how much damage it could cause… and I sure GM DOES NOT recommend trying this set up you explain.. could be very dangerous.

    PROCEED WITH CAUTION… Electricity is NOT forgiving… and electrical systems can be ruined in a heart beat.

    NOT A VERY THOUGHT OUT ARTICLE JEFF.. AND CAN BE DANGEROUS!!!!

    !!!!!!


  29. 29
    Noel Park

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (12:51 pm)

    Raymondjram: I read somewhere that the Chevy Silverado Hybrid does have an onboard inverter as an accessory for remote construction sites, but don’t remember what its power output was, probably up to 2.4 KW.

    #110

    Yeah, they do (did?) have some standard 120v receptacles somewhere in the bed area. I dunno what the power output was either, but supposedly they were sized to let contractor types use them for power tools so they must have been fairly stout.


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    Noel Park

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (12:53 pm)

    pjkPA: PROCEED WITH CAUTION… Electricity is NOT forgiving… and electrical systems can be ruined in a heart beat.

    #28

    That’s kind of my reaction too. No way would I be doing this with my Volt. +1. For all the good it’s doing, LOL.


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    Loboc

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (2:01 pm)

    Peter,

    pjkPA,

    I don’t know where this 60amp thing is coming from: you guys are off by a factor of 10x. A 3500w inverter has an output of 29amps. Yeah it might draw more than that to do the conversion (thus the huge heat sinks).

    http://www.homedepot.com/Outdoors-Outdoor-Power-Equipment-Generators-Power-Inverters/h_d1/N-5yc1vZbxdu/R-202545834/h_d2/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&storeId=10051#specifications

    pjkPA: I bet no charging system is rated at 60a

    The alternator on my SUV puts out 140amps @ 12vdc, so, it’s not taxed with this load.

    A Volt can jump-start another car (400amps@12v or 4800w), so, I seriously doubt that a dinky 750w (6.25amps@120v) inverter would do any damage. Heck, you can plug that much load into the cigarette lighter!


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    bitguru

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (2:34 pm)

    It would be nice if we could come to some kind of consensus as to how this general approach can be done safely.

    What is the output rating of the Volt’s DC/DC converter? That value should put a ceiling on what we allow the inverter to draw, no? Then I’m guessing the inverter should probably be connected directly to the 12v battery’s terminals with low-gauge (= thick) cables, perhaps with a fuse/breaker, unless someone knows of a safer hookup location.

    I would like to do this for the next storm, but only if virtually everyone agrees it is sound.


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    Derek Taubert

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (2:47 pm)

    See the article in post #5 – the APM can produce 175 amps to charge the 12V battery. That’s 2.1kw, but not clear if it is peak or continuous.


  34. 34
    Loboc

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (2:51 pm)

    bitguru: What is the output rating of the Volt’s DC/DC converter? That value should put a ceiling on what we allow the inverter to draw, no?

    I disagree. The 12v battery has some capacity to level out the load by taking any peaks. The converter spec would be the level-load value, not the peak value. A refrigerator, for example, draws a large load to start, a much smaller load to run and almost zero load when the compressor is off.

    Higher end inverters have a low battery warning and cut-off, so, the 12v battery should not be damaged by using it’s lower SOC.

    I have a 1500w inverter for emergencies and haven’t had any problems. My electronics are on UPS systems, so, they are buffered from any weirdness with sags/overages/spikes.

    Besides, in an emergency, I would sacrifice a 12v car battery to keep my family safe.


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    Jim I

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (3:42 pm)

    I thought there were several people that had installed 1500W units with a 3000W surge on their Volts. You just have to connect the wires directly to the battery – no jumper clips.

    And there was just a thread in the forums about this being done. He put a 200A breaker on the DC side for extra protection.

    I have been considering a 1500W pure sine wave unit, but they are kind of expensive.

    I was looking at:

    http://www.amazon.com/Samlex-America-SSW150012A-1500W-Inverter/dp/B004OUB5BK

    That one is less expensive

    or

    http://www.amazon.com/Samlex-PST-150S-12A-Inverter/dp/B003FWPUKA/ref=pd_sim_sbs_auto_1

    That one has a higher DC input voltage. I was only thinking about it as some have reported the 12V battery on the Volt actually puts out over 15V

    But then I start to think about GM saying this voids the warranty. Possibly killing a $45K car and then having no warranty gives me some serious concerns….

    And then I see 4000W gasoline powered generators for about the same money.

    http://www.amazon.com/Champion-Equipment-46533-Generator-Compliant/dp/B004054GN8/ref=pd_sim_sbs_lg_6

    Fortunately, we did not get much of the latest storm, but if it is going to now be a problem, I would like to be prepared.

    It is all very confusing……………


  36. 36
    Evan

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (3:44 pm)

    pjkPA:
    NO WAY… should you be trying to run anything but small electronics with this set up….

    600 watts at 12VDC is 60A.. that requires a no.8AWG wire to carry that load. This load will VERY quickly drain a battery…and I bet no charging system is rated at 60a… not sure how much damage it could cause… and I sure GM DOES NOT recommend trying this set up you explain.. could be very dangerous.

    PROCEED WITH CAUTION… Electricity is NOT forgiving… and electrical systems can be ruined in a heart beat.

    NOT A VERY THOUGHT OUT ARTICLE JEFF.. AND CAN BE DANGEROUS!!!!

    !!!!!!

    I disagree. I am an engineer and my job is to design and build electrical connectors, so I know a thing or two about this subject. I recently purchased a 1600W Inverter to hook up to my Volt battery. I am connecting it to the battery via two 18in #4 AWG wires and military spec terminals. With such a short distance, 4AWG is more than enough. NEC ratings are based off of infinitely long conductors, 18 in is a whole different story.
    Contrary to your statement, the Volts DC-DC converter is rated at about 2200W. It will more than handle the load Jeff or I will ever put on it. Keep in mind, you don’t want to do this when the car is off… That will surely drain the battery.


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    Noel Park

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (4:35 pm)

    Jim I: But then I start to think about GM saying this voids the warranty. Possibly killing a $45K car and then having no warranty gives me some serious concerns….

    And then I see 4000W gasoline powered generators for about the same money.

    #35

    Right. I just bought the handiest little 2500W generator you ever saw to take to the races. $300. I would sure do that before I would screw around with my Volt.

    I think that, as many here have suggested over the years, that it would be very cool if GM would provide a wired in 120v socket in the Volt with instructions in the OM and which would not impact the warranty. Until then, no, no, no!


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    kdawg

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (5:18 pm)

    Evan: I am connecting it to the battery via two 18in #4 AWG wires

    #4 AWG makes sense. Look at the tiny wires in the pic at the top of this article. To me they look like 12 AWG, but it’s hard to tell. Are they running 2 in parallel?


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    Felix Kramer

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (5:23 pm)

    We’re getting ready for this, with a Volt and a Leaf, when we remodelled the house we moved into in May, we pre-rewired it so in an extended outage, we’ll be able to throw a switch to “island” from the utility lines so we can use a PEV to power the kitchen line (refrigerator, lights, laptops), and recharge it from rooftop PV.

    Nissan offers a “Leaf To Home” component, $4,300 in Japan http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1079955_nissan-leaf-to-home-power-station-will-it-make-it-to-u-s .  People in SF BayLEAFs are trying to get Nissan to make some of these units available in the U. S. I hope for something similar for the Volt, with a smaller battery but the engine for cloudy days!

    Advertisement for mew non-profit: sign up at http:// drivingelectric.org to give EV curious people test drives,


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    DonC

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (6:41 pm)

    bitguru: What is the output rating of the Volt’s DC/DC converter?

    175A which would allow you to draw 2kW. Try these threads for info:

    http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?5949-VOLT-as-auxiliary-power&p=50254#post50254
    http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?8835-Volt-as-Emergency-Power-Generator&highlight=home+generator


  41. 41
    George S. Bower

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (7:38 pm)

    DonC: 175A which would allow you to draw 2kW. Try these threads for info:

    http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?5949-VOLT-as-auxiliary-power&p=50254#post50254
    http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php?8835-Volt-as-Emergency-Power-Generator&highlight=home+generator

    and don’t forget there is a good DCfuser thread in the Forum I think it’s a stickey


  42. 42
    Glen Jenkins

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:03 pm)

    Many months ago some GM engineers responded to this question on this site regarding using the VOLT’s 12VDC trunk mounted battery as power to a DC/AC Inverter. They warned that the VOLT MUST be turned ON and that the Inverter MUST be LESS than something around 1500 -1800 watts load or else you will destroy the VOLT’s 380VDC to 12 VDC inverter that keeps the 12 V battery charged. Please go back to the older posts to read the details.
    If you drain your 12VDC battery you will NOT be able to start the VOLT again until you charge the 12 V battery back to life. The Volt needs 12VDC for the systems to function. The charge connection is located UNDER THE HOOD on the driver’s side. DO NOT recharge or jump charge directly on the 12V trunk mounted battery!!!!!!


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    Dylan

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:38 pm)

    Not a big fan about this article. Hooking a high watt inverter to a starter battery is not ideal at all. Inverters should be tied to deep cycle batteries or in the case of an ev should be tied to the main battery supply, not the 12 volt starter battery in the volt. I would wait until GM or a recognized OEM has a better solution then trying this for any length of time.


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    DonC

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (10:51 pm)

    Dylan: My guess is that the 12 volt is not charged anywhere near 700 watts.

    As noted above, the APM will supply the 12v at 175A. So 2kW.


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    Koz

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (11:16 pm)

    I have been emploring GM to add the option for adding “real” emergency power output to the Volt. It is capable if powering just about any household. Ironically, the Volt is also more than capable of powering a gas station for all those ICE vehicles.

    If GM had allowed for this capability, it is possible they could now be trumpeting that Volt’s loaned by their owners were now powering the gas stations that serviced storm victims and the more vulnerable single energy source ICE autos.


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    Koz

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (11:22 pm)

    Dylan:
    Not a big fan about this article.Hooking a high watt inverter to a starter battery is not ideal at all. Inverters should be tied to deep cycle batteries or in the case of an ev should be tied to the main battery supply, not the 12 volt starter battery in the volt.I would wait until GM or a recognized OEM has a better solution then trying this for any length of time.

    You mustn’t be married.


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    Loboc

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (11:39 pm)

    Koz: You mustn’t be married.

    Lol


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    Bonaire

     

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    Nov 1st, 2012 (11:58 pm)

    Doing a lower-amperage inverter down to 120V DC from the 360V HV battery seems more “practical” to driving a DC-AC 120V inverter than converting up from 12V DC to 120V AC.

    Does the new external DC-charging connectors allow reverse draw? If so, then EVs become a big HV battery and perhaps an external inverter is the answer there. No need for 12V high-amp inverters. Once families have 3 or 4 EVs – driving around with on-board chargers and inverters is probably too much extra equipment if you can have one at-home external charger/inverter unit. That can help lower some of the costs of building individual EVs.


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    kdawg

     

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    Nov 2nd, 2012 (12:18 am)

    How about an external generator that doesn’t have to connect to the battery with wires, and you get the full power of the Volt’s HV battery and/or ICE?

    I’m talking about something like a dyno with a generator hooked to it. Just pull your front wheels onto it, and put it in cruise control.

    (just thinking outside the box)

    dyno.jpg


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    Mark Bartosik

     

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    Nov 2nd, 2012 (12:19 am)

    We’ve got a Volt and live on Long Island. We did much the same to power our house with a 3000W inverter. A desirable inverter feature is one that shuts off on battery under-voltage. The Volt can provide about 1200W continuous I believe because it has a 100A DC-DC converter to charge the 12v system. We found that we could draw about 1500W for short periods (draining the 12v battery a little) but 1100W was safe to draw for longer periods (our microwave oven). As measured with our Kill-A-Watt meter.

    I’ll post more about our experience later.
    Many gas stations are closed now so being efficient on gas is important too.


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    kdawg

     

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    Nov 2nd, 2012 (12:40 am)

    Mark Bartosik,

    So right now you’re surfing Gm-Volt.com on Volt power? ;)


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    Evan

     

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    Nov 2nd, 2012 (8:40 am)

    kdawg: #4 AWG makes sense.Look at the tiny wires in the pic at the top of this article.To me they look like 12 AWG, but it’s hard to tell.Are they running 2 in parallel?

    Those look like solid #8′s to me.


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    Tom

     

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    Nov 2nd, 2012 (9:33 pm)

    Loboc,

    People should always be careful not to set up a generator in such a way as to put power back up on the grid. A lineman will presume a line is dead and not running power from a home up onto the grid. This could lead to electrical shock and potentially death.


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    Dave G

     

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    Nov 3rd, 2012 (10:33 pm)

    I live in New Jersey, and we were without power from Monday through Thursday. I used a 1500w pure sine inverter to power my fridg, basement freezer, cell charger, and a few CFL light bulbs. In the evening, I would unplug the freezer and plug in my LCD TV and home theater sound system to watch a DVD. At night, I just turned everything off. All the food in the fridg and basement freezer was fine.

    Here’s the inverter I used:
    http://www.invertersrus.com/pwri150012s.html

    Note that the pure sine inverters are much better. The cheaper inverters have issues with some electronics, motors, and laptop chargers. Don’t take a chance damaging your stuff – get the pure sine inverter.


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    KNS

     

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    Nov 4th, 2012 (10:25 pm)

    JCP+L restored my power less than 24 hours ago so I am playing catch up. I apologize if these points have already been made.

    I earned my EE degrees more than 5 decades ago but I don’t think that Ohms law and the chemistry of lead acid cells have changed since then.

    In my opinion, anyone who would risk being injured by an accidental short across an accessory battery in order to keep a refrigerator going should re-evaluate their priorities.

    And the headline writers and readers won’t much care that the injury could have been caused by the battery of an ICE just as easily as the accessory battery in a Volt.

    Factory installed power take off points with proper protections (eg, as in VIA TRUX) would be a great selling point for any EV. But I would never suggest that the typical Volt owner consider it a DIY project.

    KNS


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    Skyler

     

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    Nov 5th, 2012 (10:32 pm)

    Using your electric vehicle for emergencies is a great idea, but we need to talk real emergencies not 2-3 hour blackouts.

    Please remember that grid-tie solar systems shutdown during blackouts, therefore they cannot be used for charging during emergencies. I know this sounds counter intuitive but it is important to understand the safety standards behind residential PV systems.

    You can see full specs for grid-tie solar inverters here: http://www.webosolar.com SMA inverters in particular have comprehensive installation manuals.


  57. 57
    Kathleen Winfrey

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    Nov 6th, 2012 (1:25 am)

    Wow! such an amazing invention! This car serves a good purpose to their owners. It is good that it can be converted to give energy for your houses. This can also be use for emergencies like the hurricane sandy.