All-Electric Future

GM will test electric vehicles as home backup generators in California

A new partnership with PG&E will allow GM to test its vehicles with California's actual power grid.

US President Joe Biden climbs into an electric hummer as he tours the General Motors Factory ZERO el...

General Motors hopes its electric vehicles will some day be so electric they can power entire homes. The automaker is partnering with PG&E in California to try doing just that, in the hopes that its EVs could be utilized as powerful battery backups in the case of electrical outages.

“Not only is this a huge advancement for electric reliability and climate resiliency, it’s yet another advantage of clean-powered EVs, which are so important in our collective battle against climate change,” PG&E CEO Patti Poppe said in a press release.

The future-forward experiment is set to begin some time soon; the companies say they’re hoping it’ll be up and running by 2022. Right now the running name for a vehicle capable of charging a home is a “vehicle-to-home capable EV,” though really that’s just a more-complicated way of saying the car has bidirectional charging.

An EV capable of storing enough charge to work as a backup generator is promising; it’s also a huge boost for the idea of bidirectional EV charging writ large.

Communications protocols incoming — While GM is far from the first to consider bidirectional charging in EVs, it is the first to partner with a utility company to test the feature. The PG&E part of the experiment will allow GM to test “software-defined communications protocols” that should ostensibly make bidirectional charging more efficient in this particular context.

PG&E’s involvement means GM will also be able to test how an electric vehicle’s bidirectional charging can interact with the larger electric supply. With PG&E’s power grid expressly available for testing, GM can work to figure out the best way of implementing this tech — by allowing the vehicle to start powering a home on its own after electricity goes out, for example.

The next big EV feature? — Bidirectional charging, once a feature relegated to the fringes of EV development, is quickly gaining traction in the automotive industry. Ford’s F-150 Lightning is perhaps the most notable example of this newfound popularity, though the company is mostly pushing bidirectional charging as a way to help recharge EVs on the road that have run out of juice.

The only really popular EV to currently include bidirectional charging is Nissan’s Leaf, which doesn’t exactly have the heft to power an entire home. Volkswagen is also planning to introduce bidirectional charging to its vehicles some time this year, though the exact specifications of that charging initiative is still unknown.

GM has committed to creating 30 new electric vehicles by 2025. Bidirectional charging capabilities might just end up being one of the biggest selling points for many of those new vehicles.