Why the EV boom could put a major strain on our power grid
Why the EV boom could put a major strain on our power grid

More than half of all new cars sold in the U.S. are expected to be electric car. This could put enormous strain on our nation’s electrical grid, an aging system built for a world that runs on fossil fuels.

Domestic electricity demand is forecast to grow by 18% in 2022 by 2030 and by 38% in 2035. Rapid Energy Policy Assessment and Analysis Toolkit, Or to repeat, an energy policy program at Princeton University. That’s a huge change from the roughly 5% growth over the past decade.

“So we’re facing a lot of demand for electricity right now as a country, and we haven’t really had any demand for electricity for the last 25 years,” said Rob Gramlich, founder and president of Grid Strategy, a transmission policy group.

While many parts of the economy are shifting from fossil fuels to electrification — such as home appliances like stoves and space heating in homes and offices — the transportation sector is driving the growth. Light-duty vehicles (excluding large trucks and aviation) are expected to use 3,360 percent more electricity by 2035 than they do today, according to Princeton University.

But electrification is only an effective decarbonization solution when combined with large-scale build-out of renewable energy. “So, we have supply-side and demand-side drivers of large grid demand,” Gramlich said.

This means we need major changes to the grid: more high-voltage transmission lines to bring power from rural wind and solar plants to demand centers; smaller distribution lines and transformers for last-mile power delivery; inverters Hardware such as inverters allow customers with home batteries, electric vehicles and solar panels to feed excess energy back into the grid.

It won’t come cheap. In a study commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission, grid analysis firm Kevala predicted: California alone must spend $50 billion on distribution grid upgrades by 2035 to achieve its ambitious electric vehicle goals.

Major grid infrastructure needs

Electric vehicle charging is very power-hungry. While a direct comparison to an appliance depends on many variablesA new Tesla Model 3 owner, with a national average of about 14,000 miles per year, uses about the same amount of electricity to charge the vehicle at home in a year as it uses on an electric water heater, and about as much electricity as a new energy-efficient refrigerator requires 10 times more. Large electric vehicles such as the Ford F-150 Lightning typically use more electricity than central air conditioning in large homes.

Lydia Krefta, director of clean energy transportation for PG&E, said the utility currently has about 470,000 electric vehicles connected to the grid in its northern and central California service area, with a goal of reaching 3 million by 2030.

Given that PG&E’s business covers about one-seventh of the electric vehicles in the United States, the way it handles the electric vehicle transition could serve as a model for the United States. This is not an easy task. The utility is tied to a four-year financing cycle for grid infrastructure upgrades, with its last request for financing in 2021. Funding will certainly fall short of what is needed now, Krefta said.

Source Power Services workers contracted by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) repair a power transformer in Healdsburg, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

David Paul Morris | David Paul Morris Bloomberg | Getty Images

“A lot of the analysis in that request comes from 2019 or 2020 forecasts, especially some older electric vehicle forecasts, that didn’t foresee the kind of growth that we think is more likely to be seen now,” Krefta said. In this case, PG&E applied for a large number of state and federal grants to help it achieve its electrification goals.

“I think people are oversimplifying what electrification of transport means right now,” said Aram Shumavon, CEO of Kevala. “If it’s done well, it’s going to be amazing; Real risk. It’s a risk for regulators, it’s a risk for politicians, it’s a risk for utilities.”

Shumavon said that if the electric grid infrastructure cannot keep up with the boom in electric vehicles, drivers may encounter charging difficulties, such as long queues or only charging at certain times and places. An overstretched grid is also more vulnerable to extreme weather events and prone to blackouts, as California experienced in 2020.

The most direct way to meet growing electricity demand is to bring in more energy, preferably green. But while it’s easy to locate coal and natural gas plants near population centers, the best solar and wind resources are often in rural areas.

That means what the U.S. really needs are more high-voltage transmission lines that can transport solar and wind resources across counties and states.

But while we keep spending money replacing and upgrading old lines, we’re hardly building any new lines, Gramlich said. “I think we probably need about $20 (million) or $30 million a year for new capacity, new line miles, new deliveries. We’re spending close to zero on that right now.”

There are significant regulatory hurdles to building new transmission lines, which often span multiple counties, states and utility service areas, all of which require approval of the line and agreement on how to finance it.

“If you’re just thinking about a line that goes through two or three dozen different utility areas, they have a way to recoup the cost of the local system, but when there’s something that benefits three dozen utilities, they raise their hands, and who thinks that? How much to pay, how much to pay, how do we decide?” Gramlich said.

Licensing is also a major hurdle. All new energy projects must go through a series of impact studies to assess what new transmission equipment is needed, how much it will cost and who will pay for it.but The list of items caught in this process is huge. The total generation in the queue is almost entirely renewable and exceeds the total generation on the grid today.

The Reducing Inflation Act is expected to reduce emissions by about 1 billion tons by 2030, According to Princeton University’s REPEAT project. But according to the same analysis, more than 80% of the emissions reductions could be lost if transmission infrastructure construction does not exceed twice the historical growth rate of 1% per year.

an “intermediate period”

Efforts are underway to accelerate energy infrastructure development. Most notably, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-Va., introduced a bill in May to allow the reforms after similar measures failed last year. President Joe Biden supports the bill, which would speed up approvals for all types of energy projects, including fossil fuel infrastructure. Political maneuvering will be tricky, though, because many Democrats see the bill as too friendly to fossil fuel interests.

But even if the pace of permitting picks up and we soon start spending huge sums on transmission, building the required infrastructure will still take years.

“There will be an intermediate period where the demand is very high but transmission cannot be established during the time period when the demand is occurring, and distributed energy resources will play a very active role in managing that because no other resources are available,” Schumaving explained explain.

That means resources like residential solar and battery systems can help stabilize the grid, as customers generate their own electricity and sell excess power back to the grid. Automakers are also increasingly equipping their EVs with bi-directional charging, allowing customers to use giant EV battery packs to power their homes or supply electricity to the grid, just like a regular household battery system. tesla This feature isn’t currently available, but has said it will be in the next few years, while other models such as ford The F-150 Lightning and Nissan Leaf already do this.

Ford’s all-electric F-150 Lightning offers two-way charging, allowing customers to use the truck’s EV battery to power their homes.

ford motor company

Energy efficiency and the timing of energy use may also receive greater emphasis. For example, PG&E is considering how to optimize charging times for large electric fleets.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is work with some companies that put a lot of load into it, provide flexible load limits, let’s say you can only charge 50 electric cars at 7pm, but you can charge them at 2am All 100,” Krefta said.

Still, Krefta expects the restrictions on charging times to be temporary, and said that going forward, PG&E is looking to incentivize consumers with dynamic pricing, where electricity prices are higher during peak demand and lower during off-peak hours. The utility is working with automakers to study how electric vehicles can provide the greatest benefit to the grid.

“What do you need to do in the garage to get your vehicle to power your home? As long as there is clean and low-cost renewable energy on the grid, how do you use your vehicle to charge, then discharge back to the grid to drive at night?” Such questions will help create the green grid of the future, Krefta said.

Watch the video to learn more about how the U.S. grid is getting ready for the electric vehicle boom.


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