In the era of climate-related power outages and overstrained electrical grids, the Ford Motor Company has adopted a civic service angle within its electric vehicle (EV) marketing strategy. Instead of simply pitching the zero-emission benefit of its popular F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck, Ford is encouraging Lightning owners to deploy their EV battery for the good of the entire community as well as themselves.
Utilities have long recognized that EV batteries can work two ways: they can both receive and discharge electricity. Normally the discharged electricity makes the EV run. A home can also run lights and other appliances from an EV battery, assuming that the vehicle and home are both equipped for that. In effect, the EV battery can serve as a zero-emission emergency generator.
The two-way feature provides utilities with a powerful new tool for preventing strain on the grid. They can encourage EV owners to charge up during periods of low demand, and deploy their battery at home to help reduce demand on the grid during peak periods.
Auto marketers have long associated pickup trucks with personal independence and a willingness to pitch in when someone needs help. Ford transplanted that legacy onto EV territory when it introduced the Lightning F-150 electric pickup truck last year, and now it is adding a rooftop solar angle as well.
In a press release dated February 2, Ford announced that it has partnered with the leading solar company Sunrun as the preferred installer for Ford's home charging station and energy management system. In addition to enabling home appliances to run from a Lightning EV battery, the system can also integrate rooftop solar panels.
Editor's note: Be sure to subscribe to our Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday.
Ford also used the announcement to introduce the idea that EV owners can help prevent grid strain, by using their battery strategically.
"In the future, Ford will introduce additional F-150 Lightning features to help customers potentially save money and take pressure off the electric grid during peak usage,” Ford explained. “Ford Intelligent Power, for example, will allow customers to power their homes with their truck’s battery when electricity rates are higher, while charging the truck when rates are lower – or from their own solar-powered rooftop.”
Ford also broadened the civic service theme to encompass improving grid stability and resilience nationwide.
“This load shift can also help buffer the load on the nation’s grid and help reduce the use of higher carbon energy without affecting daily routines or charging schedules,” Ford emphasized.
Although Ford did not mention coal or natural gas power plants by name, the mention of reducing “higher carbon energy” is a clear reference to fossil power plants in general and gas peaker plants in particular.
That’s an interesting point because gas peaker plants are designed to cycle on during periods of high demand. Clean power advocates have made the point that a combination of energy storage and renewable energy can replace peaker plants, and Ford has subtly invited F-150 Lightning customers to assist with that movement.
With certain caveats, Ford estimates that the average U.S. home could run off the F-150 Lightning extended-range battery for up to three days. The solar-plus-storage element kicks that up to an impressive 10 days, which makes a good case for EV owners to install rooftop solar panels if they are in a position to do so.
Ford’s February 2 announcement did not neglect the self-interest angle. The company highlighted how EVs can contribute to independence and self-reliance.
"Truck owners are used to tapping a variety of features – torque, towing capability and more – to get things done,” Ford explained. “Now, with the all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup, Ford is the first in the U.S. to offer the ability for customers to power their homes with an electric truck when the grid goes dark, providing innovative new capabilities that enhance the energy independence of its customers.”
By emphasizing the “energy independence” angle, Ford put a personalized stamp on a theme that has long been associated with national clean energy policy through the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
The Energy Independence Act aimed to wean the U.S. from dependency on fossil energy, partly by improving on old technology and partly by increasing the availability of clean power.
Not surprisingly, the Trump administration replaced the theme of independence with “energy dominance.” In practice, that meant touting fossil energy at the expense of renewables. The danger of that approach is well known, both on the level of global climate change and on community impacts when fossil power systems fail.
Those community impacts were on full display in Texas last February, when hundreds of deaths were attributed to a days-long, widespread grid failure. Fossil energy stakeholders blamed the outages on the state’s renewable energy resources, but a University of Texas study reflects the consensus of experts. All power systems were impacted to some extent, but the storm revealed especially significant failures and shortcomings in the state’s network of natural gas power plants, including fuel transportation and storage as well as power generation. Renewable energy is the solution, not the problem.
Ford also underscores a key bottom line advantage of deploying an EV battery for home use.
The home energy storage trend has been catching on quickly, and it is sure to keep growing as ratepayers seek alternatives to noisy, polluting gas or diesel emergency generators. The need for reliable power at home includes small business owners who work from home, remote workers, and the self-employed.
Home battery systems are expensive, but Ford makes the point that EV owners don't necessarily need to invest in a battery to install at home, since they already have one in their vehicle.
Ford positions its Intelligent Backup Power system for the F-150 Lightning as a superior alternative to both home batteries and fossil-powered generators.
"The F-150 Lightning extended-range battery system can store 131 kilowatt-hours of energy and deliver up to 9.6 kilowatts of power in a cleaner, quieter, more efficient way versus gasoline-powered generators, and with greater capacity than many wall battery units," Ford explains, emphasizing that the "F-150 Lightning can also offer lower-cost energy storage in a product customers already own – their truck."
For all the bottom-line benefits of deploying EV batteries for home use, it is refreshing to see Ford focus attention on the civic services that EVs can provide. In adopting that marketing strategy, Ford has the potential to cultivate a new generation of car owners who take civic responsibility to heart.
Clearly, the time has come for leading automakers to take action on the civic front. From the series of noisy “Trump Train” demonstrations featuring tricked out SUVs and pickups, to a white supremacist running down Heather Heyer with his car, to the ongoing occupation of downtown Ottawa by truck drivers, vehicles have become a right-wing weapon of choice for disrupting communities, attacking counter-protestors and wreaking mayhem.
Ford has begun to craft a counterbalance, and there are many more opportunities for other automakers to follow.
Image credit via Ford Media Center
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.