Can the Grid Handle Big EV Build?

April 12, 2023

Beyond the questions about whether auto makers can ramp up this fast, is the question about whether the US grid can handle the additional load of charging EVs.
Generally, history suggests that the transition to clean technology goes more quickly than conventional wisdom would suggest. As to grid capacity, we have work to do, but EVs, done right, can be part of the solution.


The Biden administration on Wednesday is unveiling the “strongest ever” tailpipe emissions standards that are expected to push automakers to accelerate the proportion of electric vehicles in their U.S. sales to 67% by 2032.

The proposed rules by the Environmental Protection Agency, which govern greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from light-duty vehicles such as cars, trucks and SUVs, call for a 56% reduction for the applicable model years 2027 to 2032. The EPA projects that by 2055, the rules would remove nearly 10 billion tons of carbon emissions — equal to twice the total U.S. carbon emissions in 2022 — reducing fine particulate matter in the air that can have negative health effects and potentially saving up to $1.6 trillion.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan, in a virtual briefing ahead of a news conference on Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C., called the targets, which will undergo a public comment period before being finalized, “ambitious.” In August 2021, President Joe Biden had set a goal for half of new U.S. vehicle sales to be all-electric by 2030. Now, the new standard suggests EV penetration would be at 60% by 2030 to meet the proposed standards.

Chris Tomlinson in Houston Chronicle:

EVs accounted for 7 percent of new vehicle registrations in the U.S. in January, up from 4 percent the year earlier, and could double again. Automakers offered 47 models, including sedans, pickups, SUVs and luxury cars in 2022, and more than 150 are expected in 2025, reported S&P Global Mobility, a data and consulting firm.

Thanks to new tax credits, EV sales are expected to climb dramatically, with more cars plugging into the grid. But electricity company executives insist we have nothing to worry about and say EVs will help stabilize the grid, not overload it.

Last week, I attended the Energy Thought Summit in Austin, where the best and brightest minds in the electric power industry compare notes. They discussed how additional revenue from EV charging will help finance and justify desperately needed grid upgrades.

“Not only can the grid take it; it’s good for the grid,” Drew Higgins, senior director of products and services for San Antonio’s CPS Energy, told the audience. “EVs are good, nice, schedulable loads that charge at night, off-peak. And you can incentivize people to charge when you want them to and where you want them to. And in the future, maybe even provide energy back.”

Visit the Electric Reliability Council of Texas website, and you can see how demand for power swings over 24 hours, and with it the price ERCOT pays for electricity. If a utility can encourage EV owners to charge when demand is low, it will boost prices during the off-peak period and make generating electricity more profitable.

“We compensate our customers for basically working with the utility to charge when and where we want them to. And then on top of that, we have different types of rebates based, once again, upon that scheduling,” Higgins explained.

The Energy Systems Integration Group, a nonprofit and nonpartisan industry research organization, released two white papers last week detailing how EVs can boost grid stability. DNV, a risk management firm, agreed that EVs will improve the grid.

“With the power grid transitioning from a conventional, unidirectional energy delivery model to a more decentralized one … the significance of flexible solutions at the consumer level, such as EV batteries, is critical,” the firm found.

The average EV in Texas consumes $450 in electricity annually, boosting utility revenues. Higgins explained that out of every dollar spent, 76 cents stays in the community. With gasoline, only 7 cents of every dollar stay behind. More money for the community means a more modern grid.

San Diego Gas and Electric updated its equipment to successfully experiment with using electric school buses for backup power. Thousands of buses can provide a significant amount of dispatchable energy during hot summer days or cold winter nights when school is out and buses are idle.

Upgrade the grid further, and every EV owner can turn their vehicle into a backup power source for their home or sell their extra electricity back to the grid at a higher price. The technology exists, all we need is the Public Utilities Commission to approve it and for utilities to install it.

Planning will be critical, because the forecasted amount of new EV load is set to outpace the scheduled amount of new renewable energy generation by 2040. Too many clean energy projects remain tied up in red tape while fossil fuel plants close because they are uneconomic.

Luckily, electric utilities are full of people whose job is to plan and design grid updates. And because most companies involved are for-profit, they are incentivized to solve problems.

Steady growth in EV purchases present one of the few bright spots for electricity generators that might otherwise see a drop in demand due to energy efficiency.

New demands on the transmission and distribution system create an opportunity for utilities, such CenterPoint, CPS or electric cooperatives, to make money upgrading worn wires and transformers that deliver power.

Additional demand also means more revenue for retail electricity providers, which profit from shifting load from the most expensive time of the day to nights and weekends.

Most of all, consumers profit from lower lifetime operating costs of their vehicle, a cleaner environment and less global warming. The only losers are oil companies.

The switch to EVs is accelerating, but there is no reason to worry about the electric grid’s reliability. If we embrace the change with new technology, the grid will be better than ever.


One Response to “Can the Grid Handle Big EV Build?”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    “The only losers are oil companies…”

    …and ICE part makers and oil change companies.

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