The aggressive rollout of electric vehicles by the auto industry, the vehicles’ expanding range, environmental regulations, and government incentives are all contributing to the wave of electric cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks that are approaching American highways.
Will the power grid be able to recharge the batteries in those tens of millions of vehicles if those predictions come true?
While utility officials in other regions have occasionally warned of potential rolling blackouts to prevent system collapses, some grid operators already struggle to keep up with demand in some areas and at certain times. For example, California power authorities asked residents to avoid charging electric cars in the evening during a heat wave last September to help avoid overloading the grid.
Let’s start with the good news: Many experts believe that the utility sector will be able to produce enough electricity for the upcoming wave of electric vehicles because of planned capacity increases that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
But that doesn’t tell the whole tale. In the local grid segments that deliver electricity to specific residences and businesses, the possibility of much more severe bottlenecks looms. These neighbourhood power distribution systems may require pricey upgrades. As electric trucks and delivery vans become more prevalent, additional funding will be required to upgrade the wires and transformers that serve commercial sites.
According to Brad Stansberry, U.S. energy advisory leader at audit and consulting firm KPMG, “the more they invest in the grid, the more those costs go back to consumers.”
“A small amount of deferrable charging can go a long way [in reducing peak demand strains].” According to John Bistline, program manager for EPRI’S Energy Systems and Climate Analysis Group, “You don’t need everyone participating.”
Bidirectional charging is a more sophisticated system that some utilities, like Duke Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric Co., are testing. It allows EVs to help the grid during times of peak demand by sending power back to it from their batteries—making them part of the problem-solving process. The utility tops off the batteries when demand drops.
The majority of these configurations call for upgraded power networks, upgraded wiring inside of homes, and specific EV charging technology.