- Electric cars won’t flood the US grid anytime soon, energy and transportation experts say.
- Electric cars don’t use much energy now, and it will be decades before electric cars fully take over.
- Electric vehicles can be charged when it’s best for the grid and can even store energy for the future.
Battery-powered Teslas, Fords, and Volkswagens are not going to overwhelm the U.S. power grid, despite what Tucker Carlson and some Republican politicians they say
Last month, electric vehicle skeptics had a field day when the California utility urged customers to conserve energy during a heat wave by not charging their cars during certain hours. Some conservatives questioned how the state expected to ban sales of internal combustion engine cars by 2035 if it couldn’t manage the number of electric vehicles on the road today.
On his Fox News show, Carlson blasted electric cars as “a new way to overburden California’s already crumbling energy grid.”
Energy and transportation experts disagree.
Plugging in more electric cars will increase energy demands over time, requiring a more robust grid and smarter charging habits, they say. But there is no reason for immediate alarm. With careful planning, there will be plenty of current to flow.
EVs may one day make the grid stronger and more resilient.
Electric electric vehicles are no big deal
Although California has more electric cars than any other state, they make up just 0.4% of total energy consumption during peak hours. Even according to 2030 estimates, about 5.6 million electric cars, trucks and vans will make up only 4% of peak loads.
“To say it’s what’s burdening the grid ignores 99.6 percent of today’s challenge,” Max Baumhefner, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defense Council, said in a recent blog post.
Although EV sales are increasing, Americans keep their cars for an average of 12 years, so it will be a long time before the entire US fleet changes.
The Rocky Mountain Institute, a sustainability research group, predicts that total energy demand in the US will increase 1% to 2% annually as a result of the adoption of electric cars. That’s comparable to the increases that utilities saw during the energy consumption boom of the 20th century, with the proliferation of refrigeration and air conditioning, the group said.
“Load growth is something that some utilities haven’t had to deal with in a while, but it’s generally within the range of what utilities can plan for and manage,” said Chaz Teplin, director of RMI , adding that the biggest challenge will be the country’s transition to renewable energy sources.
But network upgrades will be needed to handle the extra load, experts say. According to a 2020 study by the Brattle Group, 20 million EVs on US roads by 2030 will require an investment of $45 billion to $75 billion in more robust energy generation, distribution and storage.
EVs are uniquely versatile
Unlike a refrigerator that needs to keep food cold 24 hours a day, or an air conditioner that can draw power for hours on a hot day, a typical electric car can be parked 23 hours a day. This provides a lot of flexibility in terms of when they are charged.
Shifting charging to times that are more beneficial to the grid – such as at night when demand is low or during the day when solar production is high – can significantly reduce peak stress on the grid, even with increased demand from electric vehicles, experts said.
“For the foreseeable future, we can do a lot with the grid we already have,” Nick Nigro, founder of Atlas Public Policy, a transportation-focused consulting firm, told Insider.
RMI sees California’s recent heat wave as proof that charge management is working: People adjusted their habits and the state avoided blackouts.
If drivers can still charge whenever they want, “then it means we have to build an extremely robust network,” said Matthias Preindl, a professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University. But smart grid technology that tells vehicles when to charge could do wonders for managing peak loads and negate the need for infrastructure upgrades in many areas, he said. Some utilities have smart charging programs, but they aren’t common yet.
A recent study of the 2035 EV ecosystem found that encouraging people to charge during the day could save western states billions in energy storage investments. Increased solar production will require batteries to store electricity for nighttime use, but daytime charging reduces this need.
In the future, EVs can support the grid
Some experts envision a future where electric grids can boost power grids if used smartly. Vehicle-to-grid, or V2G, technology will turn connected electric cars into a distributed battery system that could help utilities store electricity for emergencies or periods of excess demand.
That future is far away, but car companies are dealing with adjacent technologies. The Ford F-150 Lightning truck can act as a backup generator and power a home for up to three days, for example.
Preindl said V2G will be key to storing wind and solar energy and transitioning the U.S. to clean energy sources. “If all cars are electric, the amount of energy storage we have access to is huge,” he said.