F-150 Lightning: a Game-Changing ‘Virtual Power Plant’ to Complement Solar Energy

The Real Thunder in the Ford F-150 Lightning May Be Bidirectional Charging

Maybe you’re already on the list for a new Ford F-150 Lightning – an electrified version of the most popular-selling pickup truck in America for 44 years running.  If so, you’re in good company.  Demand for the Lightning is so strong that Ford announced in January it’s doubling production to 150,000 trucks a year.  The first deliveries will roll off the assembly line later this spring.

Amidst all the hoopla about the Lightning, a nifty new feature is going relatively unnoticed.  But it could forever change how power is made and stored in America – and broaden the horizons for residential solar power.  It’s called bidirectional charging.

Ford F-150 Lightning – a power generator on wheels

The body of a 2022 Ford F one Fifty Lightning Pro with the exterior ghosted around it

Why Bidirectional Charging?

Ford’s Ford F-150 Lightning will be the first vehicle sold in America that’s basically a portable battery and generator on wheels.  So, besides being able to plug in the battery and charge things at home, you can take that charge out on the road for use elsewhere.  And, with its bidirectional charging capabilities, the Lightning is capable of charging just about anything anywhere.

Here are three common ways bidirectional charging works:

  • Home:  If you’re like most people, your solar power and battery charging needs center mainly around your home.  That’s where 80 percent of EV battery charging occurs.  And, if you’re hooked up to a home battery system, that’s where your solar power goes for storage until its needed for your lights, appliances and anything else that uses electricity, like heat pumps if you’re going all-electric.  By charging your EVs with solar, you’re taking fossil fuels out of the transportation part of your home energy budget, which accounts for about 40% of the total.  The rest comes from heating – also about 40% of the average home’s overall power usage, and then typical household electricity usage, which is usually about 20%.
  • Work:  Contractors need to be able to power up tools, lights and heaters at job sites that don’t yet have access to utility power.  Instead of running portable generators, the Lightning can run the whole job site.  It monitors usage and shuts down connections when the battery falls below a 30% charge.
  • Play:  The Lightning has 22 different outlets featuring 220v, 110v, USB, and 12v – creating endless possibilities for chilling beverages, blasting speakers, projecting movies, popping popcorn and whatever else you need to plug in.

Bidirectional Charging Starts at Home

But, if you’re like most drivers, your Lightning is going to spend a lot of time just sitting in the garage with nothing to do.  That’s where bidirectional charging really starts to shine, because it opens the window to a range of new applications for solar power.

Whether you pick the standard size battery (a 9.6 kW battery with a 230-mile range) or the extended range option (a giant 19.2 kW version that gets 300 miles), your Lightning and a backyard solar Tracker pair up well together.  Our Tracker can handle the power requirements of the larger battery size in the Lightning, although you may want to add another Tracker or two as you fully decarbonize all of your cars, appliances and home heating and cooling systems.

(By the way, what’s your plan to go “net-zero”?)

And considering that the Lightning’s battery has about 10 times the energy storage capacity of a typical home battery, the Lightning also extends the time you can keep your “home lights burning” from just a matter of hours to up to several days when the power goes out!

Using a home charging system that’s also supplied by Ford, it takes about 8 hours to give the Lightning a full charge.  To that end, you will need to install (with help from a licensed electrician, of course) a Ford Charge Station Pro charging system. That’s when bi-directional charging possibilities open up even more, and before you know it, you’ll be part of the ‘distributed energy revolution’.

Safety First, But Solar Panels Still Work When the Grid Goes Out

One big game changer with the Ford Charge Station Pro charging station is that it allows your solar panels to keep operating even when the grid goes out – like a typical home battery storage solution.  (Without battery backup, solar has an automatic shut off when the grid is down to protect the utility repairmen who are out there getting the grid back up.) 

But with bi-directional charging and better integrated circuitry, the Station Pro knows when to cut off power to the grid during a utility outage, and then safely redirects its juice into your home battery system so you can keep home electrical devices running until the grid comes back to life.

Joining the ‘Virtual Power Plant’ Army

Now, if you already use some of the power from your solar panels to sell back into the grid – a common practice known as ‘net-metering’ — then you’re already a foot soldier in the distributed generation army.  But with the Lightning’s new giant battery packs and bidirectional charging, you’ve got new weapons in your arsenal.

And, if you’re able to link arms with other like-minded foot soldiers, then you may find yourself joining a brigade that, in utility terms, becomes known as a ‘Virtual Power Plant,’ or VPP.  While there are lots of configurations for VPPs, what makes them useful to utilities is that they are dispatchable – taking power when it’s needed, and (ideally) storing it for later use when it’s not.

With the Lightning’s surge in orders, Ford could put a million or more of these VPP tanks on the road over the next five years.  Add in other new EV entries with bidirectional charging (Tesla has some models available in Europe and Volkswagen is adding this feature to its electrified models this year) and this VPP brigade could swell into a generating army that brings real changes to how power grids are built, operated and managed.

Just how big might this distributed energy army get?  Well, if current trends hold, all of the distributed solar and wind power generation being installed in the U.S. market from 2016 – 2025 will equal the amount installed by utilities over the period.  That’s nearly 400 gigawatts of potential new, green VPP generating capacity installed by 2025!

Distributed Renewable Energy Capacity Now Rivals Grid-scale Renewables

Source:  Generac Power Systems and Wood Mackenzie

To spur this VPP market on, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued FERC Order 2222, which pushes markets to enable distributed energy participation alongside utility generation resources, opening U.S. wholesale markets to new sources of distributed energy and grid services from these VPPs.

Summing Up

So, whether you’re in the market for a Lightning, or any other type of EV, bidirectional charging is an option you may want to keep in mind.  It allows your solar panels to keep working when the grid goes down, significantly extends the backup time of your home batteries, let’s you plug into solar power and take it wherever you want to go.

No matter how you slice it, shrinking your own carbon footprint starts at home!  Solaflect is your home energy management partner.  We help you install clean and affordable solar electricity and home battery systems for a more resilient and climate-friendly future.  Click here to contact us, or call (802) 649-3700.

Previous post
Climate Checkup for 2021:  What Six Charts Tell Us
Next post
With Solar Costs Falling, Why Are Energy Bills Rising?