This year marked a shift in policy for Oklahoma real estate developer STK Homes. Starting in June, all of the company’s new-build houses include Level 2 charging capability in their garages, avoiding the need for homebuyers to install the 240-volt plugs and related wiring themselves. STK marketing coordinator Madi McFarland says it was a decision that felt natural. “It does not mean any increase in cost for us,” she says. “And all these different cars are now electric or [plug-in] hybrid. We thought our homes should follow that evolution.”
STK is ahead of the curve. While electric vehicles account for 18 percent of all new car sales in California, they’re not yet as common in Oklahoma. But the state is going electric faster than anywhere else in the US: new EV registrations in the state surged 111 percent from 2020 to 2021. Even families driving gas cars are getting ready for the change. “A lot of people haven’t quite gotten to that level of purchasing an electric car yet, but they foresee that down the road it’s going to be more of a typical thing, and they feel like they should be set up for that,” says McFarland.
More than just a place to park your car
The switch is easier if you already have a place to charge your car — as in one of STK’s new houses. If you don’t, the lack of charging capability and the perceived expense and complication of installing it can be a strong deterrent to EV ownership. “To get the vast majority of the population to switch over to an EV you have to get over range anxiety,” says Anne Lusk, a research scientist at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who has spent decades studying EVs and alternative transportation. “Range anxiety is not going to be solved by charging stations along the highway.”
That anxiety may soon be a thing of the past, thanks in large part to the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which includes a suite of new incentives for homeowners to install EV chargers, solar panels and other important steps in the march toward sustainable energy. Those supplement an already expansive collection of state and local incentives, including tax credits and rebates.
Private industry is making strides in the same direction. Homebuilders in states like Florida and California have gone a step further, outfitting their houses with solar panels and home batteries that allow homeowners to generate their own electricity, keeping surplus energy on hand for use in emergencies or to sell back to the grid at peak hours, when utilities pay higher prices per kilowatt.
Bidirectional chargers even allow EV owners to use their vehicle as a home battery, a capability not lost on car manufacturers. All of this amounts to a revolution in the role a house plays in the life of its occupant. No longer is it just shelter; it’s a miniature power station that allows homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint, increase their self-reliance in the face of extreme weather and power shortages, all while making power grids more resilient by serving as a source of backup energy that can be sold to local utilities, something known as V2G or vehicle-to-grid.
A future-proof home from top to bottom
When Alex Bazhinov built a new house for himself and his family in Virginia, he wanted to make sure its energy supply would stand up to whatever came at it. “I wanted to have some resilience,” he says. As the COO of home energy monitoring company Lumin, he knew exactly what it would take for his house to meet the needs of the present and future alike. First, there were the big-ticket items: solar panels on the roof, a 27 kilowatt-hour battery to store extra solar energy, and an EV charging hookup in the garage for when Bazhinov eventually ditches his gas-powered vehicle.
“If you’re preparing your house for the future, maybe you’re not putting solar panels on the roof right now. But you need to be thinking about what happens if you do,” says Bazhinov. “You’ll need to run a fairly big wire from wherever the solar panels are to wherever your circuit panel is. If it’s in the basement, like mine is, you’re looking at a lot of money just to put that physical conduit in the wall.” His solution: run an empty tube from the roof to the basement to make it easy to install any future wiring.
Bazhinov also recommends installing an ethernet cable in the garage or utility closet to ensure a reliable internet connection – all the better to make use of a smart circuit breaker that can actively monitor and manage energy consumption. In the event of a blackout, it gives homeowners the ability to decide exactly what they want powered: the fridge and stove, for instance, or maybe the TV. (Bazhinov was most worried about the pump that draws up water from his well: “If my power is out, I don’t have water.”) On top of that, a home energy station can create an even more sophisticated interface between solar panels, your home, the power grid and your battery – which may end up being your EV.
“I think V2G is the future,” says Bazhinov. “My assumption is that it will eventually be ubiquitous. After all, an EV is just a battery on wheels.” But it’s still early days, so for now, Bazhinov relies on his home battery, which allows him to store solar energy and occasionally sell it back to the grid as part of a net metering program. “It’s just a good investment,” he says. Not only are you making money, not only are you making your home resilient and enabling EV charging, you’re helping the planet.”
Building far and wide
Homebuilders are beginning to apply that kind of thinking to a large scale. Last year, Los Angeles-based KB Home launched the first microgrid community in California. Each house is equipped with solar panels, batteries and EV chargers as well as being connected to each other to create an independent neighborhood power grid that can keep running even in a blackout.
“What homeowners are looking for in their home energy are two things: one is reliability and the other is predictable low cost,” says Jacob Atalla, KB Home VP Innovation and Sustainability. “The community microgrid delivers on the reliability aspect – and then on the financial side, there’s a flat monthly payment for most of their energy. That delivers on the customer’s desire for predictable low expenses.”
It’s an extension of what the company is doing in nearly all of the 9,000 new homes it builds across the US each year. While California requires all new homes to have solar panels and connections for EV charging and home batteries, KB Home makes sure its houses have similar capabilities even in states with no such requirements.
Beyond the house
Atalla says the rest of the US could benefit from taking a similar approach as California, because mandating solar- and EV-ready homes creates cost benefits in the supply chain. “The scale of the market makes costs more efficient,” he says.
But there’s still a long way to go. Anne Lusk, the Harvard scientist, notes that Massachusetts still imposes restrictions on net metering, meaning that many homeowners wouldn’t be able to sell their excess energy back to the grid. “I live in a little workman’s cottage, and have the perfect roof for solar,” she says. “But I use so little electricity it’s not worth putting panels on the roof because I can’t sell it back to the grid. If I could get solar and put it back in the grid to help other neighbors and get money back for it, I would.”
That requires policy changes in many different places. But for now, change is happening one house at a time. In Oklahoma, some of STK Homes’ buyers have expressed interest in adding solar panels to their roof, something Madi McFarland says the company could someday facilitate in the same way they have added EV charging capabilities. “There’s definitely interest,” she says. “Things are changing pretty fast.”