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EVs are not a problem during California fire season, they’re the friggin’ solution

Electric-car naysayers jump to the conclusion that California EV drivers were stranded during recent power outages. But Carleen Cullen, executive director of Cool the Earth, used juice from her two EVs to keep critical appliances running during fire season.

PG&E shut off power in regions throughout Northern California to mitigate the risk of wildfires, a threat that has dramatically increased in recent years. The solution for Cullen was to buy a $25 inverter from Amazon.

When her Marin County home’s power was shut off, she plugged the simple device into her Chevy Bolt’s cigarette lighter and ran an extension cord to power a radio, computer, cell phone, and lights. “It was an excellent solution,” she said. “And I did the same thing with my Tesla Model 3 to get lights running in my kitchen and TV room.”

Cullen explained that she needed to keep both cars turned on for the power to flow. The Model 3 was in the garage, and the Bolt was in the driveway. It meant going to the driveway to turn on the Bolt every hour or so after the car automatically shuts down. Meanwhile, her neighbors were in the dark.

Cullen said that both EVs performed comparably as back-up generators. A day of power back-up used about six miles of driving range in the vehicles. Cullen added that she knows fellow EV drivers who during the outages used a more robust solution accessing the cars’ 12-volt battery to power refrigerators.

Alarming reports about EV drivers getting stranded with empty batteries overlook the easy solution of fully charging the car before an outage. “I recommend that everybody plug in every night during fire season,” said Cullen. “Just always keep the car full. It’s so easy.”

In 2018, Tesla gave notice to California owners that Supercharging was free if they needed to escape the California wildfires.

Cullen reminds people that gas pumps commonly do not work when the electricity is out. We saw clearly from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 that electric cars are more resilient to natural disasters than gas-powered vehicles.

But she made a more significant point about the connection between severe weather events – like California wildfires ­– and reducing vehicle emissions.

“A major factor is extremes of drought and precipitation events because of climate change, so the whole reason for advancing electric vehicles is because vehicles represent 40% of greenhouse gases in the Bay Area. We will never stabilize the environmental situation if we continue to burn fossil fuels for our cars.”

 Check out Cullen’s work, including an EV group-buying campaign, at Drive Clean Marin.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.