One lesson learned from the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan was this: hybrid or battery-powered vehicles can provide essential electricity in the event of a natural disaster. Owners of Toyota’s hybrid Estima vans, which come with AC power outlets, used their vehicles as a source of electricity to power devices such as hotpots and refrigerators in the days following the twin disasters.
Now comes word that Toyota will equip home-market Prius models with AC outlets beginning in 2012. Eventually, all Toyota hybrids will come with AC-out capability, and Toyota plans to include export models as soon as regulatory and safety concerns can be addressed. Japan uses 100-volt AC power, while the U.S. uses 110-volt AC and most of Europe uses 220-volt AC.
Hybrid vehicles, which use both gasoline and battery power, are ideal for use as emergency generators. Hybrids have considerably more battery capacity than conventional automobiles, which means they can provide more power for a longer period of time. Power inverters, while common in family oriented gasoline vehicles, usually have just enough output to power devices like DVD players or laptop chargers.
The Prius, on the other hand, can provide up to 1,500 watts of power (or 13 amps at 110 volts, if you prefer) for up to two days on a full tank of gasoline. When the batteries run low, the Prius automatically starts the engine to recharge the battery pack.
[Automotive News (subscription required)]