Look, I think you should be able to get rid of your car if you want to. It should be easy to go wherever you need to go fast, frequent and free public transport or using safe, shaded and separate road designs that prioritize the movement of people. The reality is that we will never reach our climate goals – a net zero economy by 2050 – unless we have fewer cars driving fewer kilometers; it will not be enough to replace every gasoline vehicle with an electric vehicle. But here’s another reality: a third of all kilometers driven in this country are in rural areas. Billions of these kilometers are traveled by trucks. That’s why, if you’re under 40, God bless you, the Ford F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the country every year you’re alive. Lately, the company has sold nearly a million trucks a year. And just a week after Joe Biden took his camouflaged knees around a circuit in Dearborn, Michigan, Ford received 70,000 pre-orders for its very first fully electric F-150 Lightning. To give an idea of how this number is absolutely game-changing, consider this: If Ford ends up shipping all of these pre-orders, they’ll be equivalent to a quarter of the total number of all EVs sold last year. The F-150 Lightning is therefore much more than just an electric version of a very popular car; it is the first viable electric vehicle for many Americans. And it has another feature that could be the key to the next zero-emission revolution: an 1,800-pound battery that holds a 300-mile charge as well as an intriguing and essential role in the future of renewable energy storage in this area. country.
Although a flashy line of mega-electric vehicles have made their debut recently, there is a big difference between, say, the Tesla Cybertruck or the Hummer EV – both of which are niche, bordering on stunt products – and the F-150, which has long been found to be extremely useful. (Eight percent of the US workforce uses an F-series truck daily, and Ford trucks and vans make up 40 percent of the nation’s commercial vehicles.) The F-150 Lightning is specially designed for the workforce, including 11 outlets designed to plug in power tools, a front trunk (“frunk”) under the hood, and a special model made for fleets. The F-150 Lightning also exceptional emergency capacities, as Camila Domonoske reports to NPR: “When plugged in at home and the power is off, the Lightning can automatically send power back to your home, keeping the lights on for days.” At the launch event, Ford CEO Jim Farley explained how owners of electric vehicles used their cars to heat their homes during the ice storms in Texas, where the collapse of the grid could have killed up to 700 people. Ford announced a partnership with industry leader Sunrun to provide an inverter – plus the option of installing solar panels – allowing locally stored energy to flow back and forth from the car to the home. But the possibilities widen for the F-150 with the installation of a bidirectional charger which allows energy to flow between the car and home and return to the grid, known as vehicle-to-grid integration (V2G).
As states begin to collect renewable energy from a wider variety of sources, including more solar and wind power, we’re going to need more batteries – a lot more batteries. “Let’s face it,” says Pamela MacDougall, senior director of engineering and network modernization strategy for the Environmental Defense Fund. “The wind does not always blow.” She cites California as an example: there, renewables produce about a third of the state’s grid as a whole, but not consistently. There are major changes in demand and supply patterns over the course of the day – known as “duck curve– because of the variability of these sources. (But it’s getting better all the time: For a few minutes last month, the California Mainnet has 94.5% of its energy comes from renewable sources.) Soon the state will be producing much more renewable energy than it needs at the same time, and large batteries will be essential to store this energy to use again. During those peaks, MacDougall says, an F-150’s big battery is the perfect place to store that excess. It goes beyond filling your car with sunlight from your rooftop solar panel. This means that your plugged-in car is part of the grid storage system, using its smart charging capabilities to absorb power in times of high production or low demand, then feed it back into the grid when needed. “Now we are finally able to harness this precious resource,” says MacDougall. “It’s a huge step in the right direction.”
While V2G is more common in European countries where electric vehicle adoption rates are much higher, some startup programs are underway in California, says Danielle J. Harris, general manager of engagement and development. innovation at Elemental Excelerator: large vehicle which is idle during periods of high sunshine with a substantial battery which is being charged. Here’s where local fleets become storage farms. California is test a V2G program for its electric school buses, which are often not used during the sunniest hours of the day. Harris’s team is also working with the State of California utility PG&E, which uses scheduled power outages on its fragile grid as a wildfire prevention strategy. A pilot program seeks to provide V2G technology to a cohort of owners whose local batteries can be used as a distributed energy resource to balance the grid in an emergency but also ensures that the entire community will have access to electricity in the event of a blackout and a means of evacuation. “If we could get all of these EVs, then they could have both a reliable vehicle and a generator that they could access,” says Harris. “We need to break the wall between energy and mobility, and all public services need to be part of the transport sector. “
Some critics have raised concerns about installing an F-150-sized battery in a moving vehicle. At a total of 6,500 pounds, this truck is much heavier, more dangerous to pedestrians and hypothetically more destructive to the roads than its gasoline-powered ancestor. Even though technology is advancing rapidly and batteries are getting smaller and smaller, says MacDougall, if we are talking about protecting the health and safety of people living in cities, where city dwellers are constantly exposed to so many vehicles and air pollution kills many more people each year than accidents, this should be a priority of first electrify the heaviest vehicles. Likewise, focusing on electrifying vehicles used for work prioritizes benefits for the people who rely most on driving. MacDougall points to his parents, who are dairy farmers and use a truck and are considering going electric just because of the F-150 Lightning. “They don’t necessarily need more transit options – their primary vehicle is their work vehicle,” she says. “This allows rural communities to have access to clean technologies.
Just because the F-150’s energy storage capabilities are critical to decarbonizing the grid doesn’t mean every American should buy one just to keep it charged in the garage. Manufacture of all new trucks consumes a lot of energy, of which only a part is recovered at the end of its useful life. While companies, including Ford, electrifying their fleets of SUVs – which are not as likely to be used for work – these heavier vehicles should be more heavily regulated, especially in cities. Vehicles that have to travel in crowded streets with a lot of pedestrians should looks less like the F-150 and more like the new USPS minivan. And access to all electric vehicles, especially when it comes to recharging, remains extremely inequitable. “We haven’t fully addressed the multi-family home situation yet,” says Harris. “You can’t say it’s just a single-family home solution. But finding a way for people who need cars to share the load of renewable energy, while charging everything from electric buses to electric bikes, could be the key to fueling a sustainable economy – and doing it right could transform the world. society for the better. “There’s all this worry about everyone going to EVs,” Harris says. “Let’s find out the best way to harness this opportunity and bring everyone to the table.”