Is the Grid Ready for EVs?

March 14, 2019

Yale Climate Connections:

Some Americans appear increasingly ready to give up their gas cars for electric vehicles. But are the country’s electric grids prepared for them?

The question is a critical one in the quest to address climate change, because transportation is now the single largest sector contributing to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EVs are widely viewed as a key way to help change that.

“The broad answer is actually yes, the grid can handle the introduction of large amounts of EVs,” said Matt Stanberry, vice president of Advanced Energy Economy, a business association dedicated to development of clean and affordable global energy systems. “The capability is there,” Stanberry said. “The question is how do you get there.”

Stanberry, along with others looking at the issue, believes what’s needed is not more power, it’s more efficiently and strategically provided power.

“Cars sit around 20, 21 hours a day. There’s plenty of time to charge – so quite a bit of flexibility,” said Dan Bowermaster, program manager for electric transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent non-profit center for public interest energy and environmental research, which has been looking at grid readiness for EVs.

But he said with new technology coming, such as storage and the ability to use a vehicle’s battery to power a home or to provide extra power to the grid, “Now is the time for everyone to prepare.”

What to think about

Ideally, people would charge their cars when the grid isn’t jammed with activity or when there’s extra power available. That would be in the middle of day in the sunny West when solar power is peaking. In windy areas like Texas, it’s nighttime. In the Northeast, it’s overnight when there’s less power usage. Utilities think they can influence people’s charging behavior by making it more advantageous to charge during those times.

Even before EV use becomes widespread, there are a lot of factors utilities have to think about as they gauge future power needs. Most critically, neighborhood circuits and transmission lines will need substantial changes. For instance, gas stations and highway rest stops one day may be filled with charging stations. That would not only put pressure on the grid, but also do it in concentrations and locations that are different from those that exist now.

With the potential for EVs to become power sources for homes and for emergency back-up power after disasters, utilities will also have to start planning for power to be able to flow in two directions. And they may need figure out how to hook it all to rooftop solar and energy storage.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin also point out in a recent report that a low-population state like Maine may need more power to support EVs than you’d think.

“There may not be very many people,” said Todd Davidson, a research associate at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas and co-author on the report. “But on a per capita basis, people in Maine actually are consuming quite a bit of gasoline. If you convert all that gasoline to electricity, then on a per capita basis, your electricity consumption is going to go up a lot.”

These are the considerations the independent system operator that runs the six-state New England grid, ISO-NE, is already thinking about.

There are a lot of variables to consider, said Stephen Rourke, ISO-NE’s vice president for system planning. Where are the EVs going to be – in hubs around the region’s cities? Evenly spread out?

Then there’s how to merge EV deployment with renewable energy.

“We’re really going to have to think about the implications,” he said pointing out that solar power can alter the time of day when the grid has the most excess power. “Then you pile a bunch of EVs on top of that. Just what does that mean?”

What’s happening now

Utilities scattered around the nation have begun pilot and demonstration projects largely focused on changing people’s behavior so they don’t plug in their cars at what is generally peak electric usage time.

Con Edison – the iconic utility that serves New York City and some of its suburbs – is already past the pilot stage for its incentive-driven charging program. Begun in April 2017 as a 100-car pilot, it went full scale that July and now includes about 1,000 private vehicles, plus about 750 fleet vehicles in New York City.

The goal is to get people with EVs to charge them between midnight and 8 a.m., the lowest electricity usage period in Con Ed’s system.

Working with an outside technology vendor, Con Ed provides participants with a connector that collects charging data.

Incentives come as e-gift cards from Amazon and others. Participants get cards worth $150 to $200 just for signing up. For every month they keep the device installed and charge at least once in Con Ed territory, they earn $5, plus an additional 10 cents for every kilowatt-hour they charge between midnight and 8 a.m. And during summertime, when air conditioners are often sucking up electricity, participants can earn another $20 if they don’t charge between 2 and 6 p.m.

Sherry Login, EVs programs manager at Con Ed, estimates someone who drives about 10,000 miles a year and only charges between midnight and 8 a.m. could earn $500 a year, not including the up-front payment.



16 Responses to “Is the Grid Ready for EVs?”

  1. Craig Toepfer Says:

    Solar charging an EV is a far better solution than burning more fossil fuels. It is easy. 12 panels = 50 miles/day.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I would expect a lower percentage of first-time EV owners to use solar panels than the more eco-sensitive early adopters.

      Personal datum: I’ve been driving a Leaf since 2014 and I live in a one-story, tree-shaded house with no solar panels.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    We might as well ask if the grid is ready for electric clothes dryers and electric ovens – they, like home EV chargers, run off of 240V lines.

  3. doldrom Says:

    Of course the grid is not ready if everyone switches to electrical … the change in the amount of power consumed would be huge, and capacity would have to increase drastically.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      electrifying everything would have the effect of making energy consumption drastically more efficient – thereby lowering total energy usage overall.
      Utilities have many tools to incentivize charging at times of low demand, and fleets of EVs make for excellent distributed storage.

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  5. mboli Says:

    For what it’s worth: my Prius plug-in goes a bit over 20 miles on an 8kwh charge.
    One gallon of gas runs it about 45 miles. So 18kwh of electricity replaces 1 gal of gas.

    One gallon of gas produces 8.8kg of CO2.
    In my part of the grid (RCFW=1251 lb/Mwh) 18kwh produces 10.2kg of CO2.

    So driving on electricity is a bit worse.

    (I bought the car knowing this. The grid is improving with time, gasoline wont.)

    • mboli Says:

      ***ERROR*** I got that wrong. The Prius Prime uses less electricity than I thought, it’s efficiency is about 3.8 miles/kwh.

      In my part of the grid driving on electricity is equivalent to 60 MPG!

      My error came from a misunderstanding of how much of the battery capacity is available for purely electric driving, before it switches to hybrid mode.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        Burning a gallon of gas produces ~9 kg of CO2, however, this does not take into account all of the energy used to extract, transport and refine crude, then transport the gasoline to service stations, a nontrivial amount of which vaporizes on the way. (I don’t know the power mix now, but 20 years ago most Houston area gasoline came from refineries using power from lignite coal.)

        Moving molecules takes a hell of a lot more energy than moving electrons.

  6. dumboldguy Says:

    2018 new light vehicle sales figures in the U.S:

    ~17,500,000 total, of which 361,307 were EV’s

    The grid is not in danger

  7. mboli Says:

    Last week staying at a hotel in the Los Angeles area I saw eight Tesla charging stations. Six of them were in use.

    I also saw a Toyota Mirai hydrogen-fueled car on the road.

    2% of sales isn’t much.

    But it is happening. In a couple of years, nobody will want to buy a gas station, unless they are assured the other one down the block is closing for good.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      In a couple of years…..?

      NO gas station has ever closed in my area of the DC suburbs in the 50 years I’ve lived here, unless it was to be replaced by a newer, bigger one (with a “food mart” attached). In fact, they “breed like rabbits” here. There are as many gas stations as fast food restaurants, and the number of banks is right up there with both.

      There are exactly 4 charging stations within 10 miles of my house, one Tesla, 3 EVgo—–and probably 200+ gas stations.

      • mboli Says:

        I’m dubious about only 4 charging stations in your area. Try this map (you can put in your zip code):

        If you zoom out a little, you will discover the DC area is lousy with charging stations.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          You’re dubious? I DID look at a map before I made that comment because I’ve never seen one here and wondered where they were, and there ARE only four within 10 miles of my house (and I live in a pretty densely populated area north of Manassas VA).

          Yes, there ARE many more closer in to DC in both VA and MD, but it’s an exaggeration to say we’re “lousy” with them. Not compared to gas stations, which are EVERYWHERE.

          PS, the charging station closest to me (~4 miles) is apparently located on the grounds of a car dealership—-I drive by it regularly and have never seen a sign or any indication it’s there—I’ll go in and find it next time I go by. Now that I think about it, the ONLY charging stations I have EVER seen are in rest areas on I-95 in Maryland. Where are they usually located?

          • mboli Says:

            Righto! I started becoming more aware of charging stations when I bought a plug-in hybrid car myself just a couple of weeks ago.
            In my small-to-middling Indiana town there are two locations (2 stations each) in city-owned parking lots and there seems to be one in an industrial building parking lot (which the map found). The industrial parking lot one is alleged to be public, but it is off the beaten path, so to speak, so I guess it was put there for employees.
            I doubt I’ll ever use a charging station with my current car: a) I can fill up with gas more easily, b) it charges a couple of hours in order to drive only 20 miles on electric, c) I’d be mighty embarrassed if I was camped out on a charger needed by somebody with a purely electric car.
            Nevertheless I have been noticing them. Seeing 8 in a hotel parking lot was striking. But I can’t generalize as to how to find them.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            I’ll look—-another one ~9 miles from my house is listed as being at a Sheetz gas station—I’ll check that out when I next go by there.

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