There is a popular myth that continues to circulate among the anti-EV crowd: that EVs somehow become dead weight during natural disasters like hurricanes.
This tired notion has surely been getting its share of back-slapping support after Hurricane Ian devastated Florida in the autumn of 2022. The idea is this: when a hurricane approaches, those trying to evacuate in EVs cannot outrun the hurricane due to the need to charge, and when the electric grid goes down, those with EVs can’t even charge their batteries.
A fine idea — and one that suffers only from being false. Predictably, like talk of cancer-causing windmills and the supposed failure of renewables during the Texas freeze of February 2021, the facts tell a different story.
Here’s how EV charging actually looks like in a hurricane situation.
EVs Run on Electricity — Kind of Like Gas Pumps
When the grid fails, gas pumps don’t magically continue running — nor do their cash registers, underground pumps, or card readers.
Not only do supply chains and gas deliveries get severely disrupted, but the gas pumps themselves run on electricity, and so they cease to function. And if a gas station is somehow running, you can bet there will be a line longer than a Tolstoy novel to get to it.
That means the only way for either EVs or internal combustion engines to continue running is to have a backup supply of fuel available.
Your run-of-the-mill American homeowner might carry a gallon or two of gasoline, or maybe five — enough to get the average car between 25 and 100 miles. After a hurricane, knocking on people’s doors and asking for gasoline likely won’t get you very far either, and no one will be synthesizing gasoline in their backyard refineries.
The only neighbors who will be synthesizing fuel are those with solar panels. Assuming the panels haven’t been badly damaged when the storm clouds part and the photons start raining down, electricity will flow.
If you have an at-home generator, you can also use that generator to charge your EV. If the generator runs on gasoline, you’d have to siphon the fuel out and into your tank.
EV batteries are large, and because of this, many are capable of powering owners’ homes during power outages. Some, like the Ford F-150 Lightning, even include this EV-as-a-home-generator capability as a selling point.
One EV owner who survived Hurricane Ian puts it like this: “Consider the usual sequence of events. Electrical power goes out after a ‘cane, whereas gas often becomes difficult or impossible to get before the event and usually remains so for some time after.” In Tampa, where the writer lives, the majority of gas pumps were empty long before mandatory evacuation was ordered. South of Tampa, in Lee County, where the hurricane did the majority of its damage, gasoline was still difficult to obtain four days after the end of the storm.
There’s another truth to consider: most power outages are localized. For instance, millions lost power during Hurricane Ian, but electricity was back fairly quickly in the majority of areas. If your power was out and you had enough charge to go 15 or 30 minutes, you would find yourself a working charger.
This was not the case with gasoline. Those stations that managed to get gas had long waits and limited supplies.
Summary: EVs need electricity. Gas engines need gasoline and electricity, making them more of a liability during hurricanes.
EVs Can Evacuate More Effectively Than Gas Cars
Another supposed strike against EVs in hurricanes is the idea that charging takes so long that you wouldn’t have time to escape.
Hurricanes are generally predicted several days in advance of landfall, and evacuations are called in plenty of time for people to leave. EVs are no worse off than gas engines when it comes to getting out of the path of a hurricane. In fact, they might just fare better.
The average EV today can travel 217 miles on a single charge. That’s enough to drive from Tampa to the Georgia state line. For those who need to stop, charging stations along public roadways take an average of 20 to 60 minutes to deliver a complete charge. Compared with gas cars, that would add an hour or less to your trip — hardly the difference between missing a hurricane or being caught in it.
Even level 2 chargers (the types available for chargers at on-street parking, businesses, and homes) can perform a 0-100% charge in 4 to 10 hours, which, as a last resort, is still well within the necessary margin.
If you are concerned there aren’t enough fast-charging stations, think again: check out this map of fast-charging stations in the United States. Keep in mind that, even with that many stations in existence, the number will only increase.
Before a storm, gasoline disappears from stations as people rush to hoard fuel and fill their tanks. Fuel trucks occasionally need police escorts to help get fuel to areas in crisis mode.
Electricity does not suffer from this problem — EV owners can charge their cars right up until the storm hits (and even after, for those who have a battery system at home). If the electric grid doesn’t fail, their cars will continue charging like normal.
That means gas car owners will have trouble getting their hands on fuel before the storm even hits, making it difficult to prepare for the worst. By the time an evacuation is ordered, it’s nearly impossible to find enough fuel to drive a meaningful distance away.
Then there is the issue of traffic jams, where EVs beat gas cars in nearly every regard. Gas cars burn fuel as they idle, and the start-stop flow of traffic makes the problem worse. EVs don’t idle — when they’re not moving, they simply don’t use up charge. If traffic is bad, EV owners can simply cut off AC and heat and retain their energy source far longer than their gasoline counterparts.
An EV’s Charge Can Come from Many Sources — Gas Can’t
There is exactly one way to power gasoline engines: with gasoline.
EVs need electricity, and there are plenty of ways to get electricity. It can come from solar, wind, and other renewables at off-grid sites. It can come from a wall socket. You can get it at fast EV charging stations. You can get it from a generator running on gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas, or battery power.
When times are hard, there are many more ways to get creative with charging an EV than with filling a gas tank.
Once your EV is charged, you can use it to power your house and your other devices when the need arises. V2H technology, as well as power inverters, allow you to run critical devices from your EV. Drive to the next town, and you can even charge up and bring that electricity back home with you.
How to Get the Most Out of Your EV in a Hurricane
Like all natural disasters, faring well in a hurricane is all about preparation. Here are some ways to prepare in advance.
1. Charge All of Your Electronic Devices
The power may go out, and you want to rely on your car/house battery as little as possible.
2. Move Electronics High Up
Anything that runs on electricity — microwaves, computers, TVs, etc. — should be fully turned off and placed high off the floor to protect them against potential flooding. Additionally, unplug them from the wall to prevent damage from power surges.
3. Preemptively Turn Off Breakers
This will protect your electric system against power surges.
4. Get a Generator or Battery Backup
A generator is great for surviving infrequent power outages. A battery backup is also excellent, particularly when paired with rooftop or backyard solar panels. These systems often bring your monthly electric bill down to zero, which can offset the monthly installment payments.
5. Install GFCI Outlets Where Needed
If there are areas of your home where water might rise, make sure there’s a GFCI outlet in the circuit. This will automatically kill power to the circuit if it comes in contact with water, which can prevent fires.
6. If It’s Been Exposed to Water, Don’t Turn It On
Even if a piece of electronic equipment was exposed to water days ago, don’t turn it on. It could have water in it that will short-circuit and destroy the equipment.
7. Turn Off Your Central HVAC and Gas Appliances.
Turn off all air conditioning and heating systems, and turn off your gas appliances if they require electricity to operate the pilot light. If the pilot light goes out, but the gas continues burning, you risk an explosion.
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