Is the Grid Ready for Electric Cars?

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photo: the Nissan Leaf

There has been a lot of excitement surrounding electric vehicles as the first “mainstream” fully electric vehicles (EV) are hitting the road with the promise of many new models coming down the pipeline in the coming years. But are electric cars a truly “green” solution, or will we be simply replacing one problem (fossil fuel dependence) for another one (increased electricity demand, not necessarily met by “clean” energy technologies)? And, importantly, can the American energy grid sustain a powerful new surge in demand?

Casting around for answers, I have assembled a few of the arguments from both the “worry” and “don’t worry” camps.

Worry

Grid stress could be felt on the local level if, for example, a single neighborhood has a high proportion of electric vehicles on one transformer and regular charging times are not sufficiently staggered or at off-peak hours.

– The only way to adequately manage supply-demand optimization is with smart grid technology that can communicate directly with vehicles and manage charging times. That widespread technology is still several to many years off.

– A 2007 Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNL) report found that even if smart grid technology were in place and charging regularly took place at off-peak hours, the nations energy infrastructure as it exists now could only accommodate a maximum 15% of vehicles being EVs.

Don’t Worry

The average age of cars on the road is nine years and going up.  Thus, it is unlikely that electric cars will hit the road en masse, but rather slowly integrate into the car stock, giving utilities time to prepare for increased demand.

-Incentives provided by utility companies can be enough encouragement to persuade most drivers to charge at off-peak hours in the years before smart grid technologies are widespread. Time-of-use plans can have substantially lower rates at off-peak hours.

– Experiments with “Vehicle to Grid” (V2G) technologies (in which Eletric Vehicles actually can store excess energy when demand is low and feed it back to the grid at peak hours) are already underway around the world, and could play a key role  in the grid of the future. See Journalist Dave Levithan’s article on the subject here.

– The U.S. Government has pledged $2 billion in grants for the manufacture of EV car batteries as well as a $400 million “downpayment” to jumpstart EV infrastructure.

Read more articles on electric cars and grid capacity here:

PHEVs: Will the Grid be Ready?, Matter Network

Can US Power Grid Handle Surge of Electric Cars?, Aol News

8 Myths About the Electric Car, Alt Transport

Is the Power Grid Ready for Electric Cars?, MSNBC Answer Desk

Ford Studying Ways to Charge Electric Vehicles, New York Times

2 comments on “Is the Grid Ready for Electric Cars?

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