While we like to focus on battery EVs (BEV) here at CleanTechnica, the world of hybrids is still inching forward into market segments where it wasn’t seen much before. One unforeseen benefit has come from the introduction of hybrids to the pickup truck segment: generator capability literally saved lives in Texas recently, and it will probably happen again with electric trucks.
Because technology moves so fast, hybrids are practically ancient by now. They’ve been in specialized applications like trains for many decades, but were introduced into the mass-produced automotive world around 20 years ago. First, we saw econoboxes like the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius get hybrid drivetrains. The public mocked and even flew the bird to hybrid drivers at this point. It’s the old “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you.”
People who didn’t want hybrids to succeed then fought hybrids, and then hybrids started winning. Now, even the F150 and other big, many vehicles are getting hybrid drivetrains. Next stop, EV trucks are going to take things over. And drivers, seeing the superior performance, are going to love it.
Ford’s Powerboost Hybrid
Motortrend already loved the hybrid F150 they tested. Performance-wise, it was only slightly slower than the F150 Raptor, a much higher performance truck. Ford used a normal 3.5-liter Ecoboost engine, but sandwiched in a 44 horsepower, 221 lb-ft electric motor between it and the transmission. That extra kick (especially the torque) gives the hybrid truck a distinct advantage over most other F150s. If you don’t stomp on it all the time, it can give you 24 MPG, city or highway.
One side benefit Ford gave people was the generator function. With the truck parked, the engine can turn the motor-generator and charge the vehicle’s 1.5 kWh battery pack. F150 plugs come in three flavors: a 2000 watt inverter for regular gas F150s, a 2400 watt base package for the hybrids, and a whopping 7200 watts if you spring for the generator package.
If you read the labels on an electric space heater, you’ll see that many of them are around 1400 watts. When I plugged one into my Jackery Explorer 1000, a space heater drew about 1250 watts. The base package generator would give you only enough overhead for a heater and a few other appliances. The 7200-watt version, on the other hand, could run 5 space heaters with some room left for lights and some other appliances. It’s really a pretty cool package to consider buying for the jobsite, but few buyers probably thought it would save them from freezing.
One Man’s Story
When the recent cold snap hit Texas, it gave them temperatures you’d more likely see in Canada or Alaska. People living that far north know to expect foul weather like that on a regular basis, so their power plants and other electrical infrastructure are built to handle it. In Texas, power plants of all types failed. While Republican politicians like Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz want to blame it all on the frozen wind turbines, gas, coal, and even nuclear plants all malfunctioned. Particularly bad were the gas shortages that kept even working natural gas plants from being able to generate, accounting for most of the shortfall.
Officials then started rolling blackouts to prevent damage to the grid that would have resulted in brownouts at best or months without electricity at worst. As the rolling blackouts got longer and longer, Texans and Louisianans were finding themselves without heat in their homes. My grandmother survived on some firewood a local church donated, and my sister was lucky that her gas fireplace kept putting heat off.
“I haven’t put in a switch to my house power panel yet so I just used a few extension cords. Ran power to some lights, coffee pot, 75” Tv, toaster oven, space heater and refrigerator. I ran it for about 10-12 hours per day to keep the freezer food frozen. I guess that’s not much load because it only used a few gallons of gas over that time. I am more than pleased on what it did for me.” the man said.
He went on to tell forum members that a neighbor with a normal generator only had a couple of 5-gallon gas cans, and was constantly going out in the cold to refill it. Eventually, he ran out and had to go without power like everyone else while the more efficient and quiet Powerboost kept things running for days.
“We have hurricanes down here more than freezes. We went through two hurricanes just a few months ago,” the man told the Detroit Free Press. “I bought the truck specifically because of the generator for my own safety. I’m happy I bought it. Some of my neighbors are too, because they could charge their cell phones and iPads off my power supply.”
As people discussed it, it turned out he wasn’t the only person to think of this.
The situation in the SW US is so difficult. Wish everyone in Texas had a new F150 with PowerBoost onboard generator…. https://t.co/KTgJpqjvPH
— Jim Farley (@jimfarley98) February 18, 2021
Ford CEO Jim Farley shared the story, and said that he wished everyone in Texas had a Powerboost with the generator package. At first blush this may sound self-serving, but Ford went the extra mile and proved that the comment was meant for the public good and not just future sales.
After seeing this, Ford told dealers in the state to lend out all of their Powerboost pickups, totaling over 400 vehicles. That’s not nearly enough generating capacity to make up for what was happening, but it was likely deeply appreciated by families who got some heat in their homes during the tail-end of the multi-day power outage.
You can bet that many people in the state will be taking a serious look at the F150 hybrid in the coming months.
Tesla’s Cybertruck & Other Electric Trucks Will Have a Similar Feature
Upcoming battery electric pickup trucks will have plugs in the bed, too. While they might not be able to power heaters and appliances for days at a time, they’d definitely give people the ability to get a dozen or two hours out of it, depending on how many heaters they’re running. If you run the bare minimum on a full battery, it may be possible to weather a multi-day storm.
As vehicle power becomes a viable backup option for more and more people around the world, expect to see more people take advantage of it during emergencies. Just be sure to keep a sufficiently thick extension cord on hand to bring that power into your home.
Featured image: The power plugs in the bed of an F150 Powerboost, with 120 and 240-volt connections. Image provided by Ford