How Will Our Power Grid Handle an Influx of EVs?

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Electric vehicles (EVs) have been gaining ground in the U.S. over the past few years, accounting for 208,000 new vehicle registrations in 2018 alone. Energy Fairness has been very supportive of efforts to encourage EV use over the years, but we maintain that it’s crucial to make sure our electric grid can handle its rapid growth. Fortunately, some creative solutions are on the horizon.

An average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatts of electricity to travel 100 miles. That’s enough electricity to power the average American home for a full day. A study by the U.S. Department of Energy found that increased usage of electric vehicles could boost U.S. electricity  consumption by more than 38% by 2050. This increased electricity demand means utilities have a short amount of time to ensure electricity supplies are available to support the influx of EVs. But, thanks to careful resource planning, utilities are on track to meet these demands. With one small caveat; it all depends on when you charge.

Electricity capacity in the U.S. has grown an average of 12 GW per year for the past 10 years, despite flat demand, according to a U.S. Dept. of Energy report. In theory, this power growth means the grid will be able to meet an aggressive increase in electric vehicles as long as production continues to climb at similar rates. Electricity demands change throughout the day, however. Demand is higher in the middle of day when air conditioners are running and in the early evenings when everyone is cooking dinner and taking care of laundry. If all EV Users  start charging their cars at the end of the work day, as most people who currently own EVs do, the system could get overloaded.

The simplest solution would be to encourage customers to charge their cars during off-peak times which would allow more electric vehicles to be added and create less strain on the grid. Utilities such as Seattle City Light  are looking at ways to make charging during times of low demand an attractive option for customers. The most common method is using time-of-day rates which would charge customers significantly more to charge during peak hours and less during off-peak hours. Another solution is smart charging, which is a system in which vehicles are plugged in, but don’t begin charging until they receive a signal from the grid that peak hours are over.

“There’s a broad consensus that EVs will need to be on time-of-use rates,” says Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office. “It will be easy for people to program their vehicle so they come home, plug it in and it doesn’t actually come on until the electricity gets cheap at 9 p.m.”

Increased usage of electric vehicles is exciting news for the fight against climate change, but minimizing strain on the power grid has to be a priority. We at Energy Fairness are glad to see that utilities are rising to the occasion and we can’t wait to see how things play out in the years to come.