Strengthening Power Grid Technology with Electric Vehicles

by ‐ Tags: alternative energy, building science

Battery-powered, electric vehicles are a promising solution to concerns over air pollution, peak oil, achieving energy independence, and climate change. But can our power grid support the increasing market of EVs?  With annual sales predicted to reach nearly 360,000 by 2017, many are concerned that the grid cannot support the additional demand.  However, the answer to the question is actually yes, our power grid can support the adoption of electric vehicles into the light duty car market.  What remains unclear is whether local distribution transformers will be able to handle the additional power load.

Treehugger.com makes an interesting comparison, pointing out that electric cars use about as much electricity as 4 to 6 big plasma televisions, about two kilowatts.  Plasma televisions haven’t brought down the power grid yet, and basically every study has found that this concern is not valid of electric cars either.  The current power grid can support over a million electric cars, and assuming that the adoption of electric vehicles will be gradual, utility companies will have time to adjust. 

The real concern is whether power grid transmission will be affected- specifically, whether local transformers will be overloaded due to neighborhood clustering.  Certain states, even towns (particularly on the West Coast), are adopting electric vehicles at faster rate than other areas of the country, so utility companies will need to prepare for unsustainable loads and the potential need to replace equipment more frequently.  EV owners can also prevent transformer failure by charging their cars at night.   

However, increasingly on the radar is a way to transform EVs from just energy sinks to also energy sources.  Known as vehicle to grid technology (V2G), EVs can be used as energy storage when not in use.  According to Scientific American, American cars are unused an average of 23 hours of the day.  This makes them prime vehicles for energy storage (no pun intended), and this use can even generate revenue for electric vehicle owners, as utility companies benefit from being able to store energy when supply exceeds demand.  Energy storage will be extremely useful as renewable energy plays a larger role in energy production, as the limited storage capabilities of power grid technology make it difficult to capture energy generated intermittently.

So don’t believe the rumors you hear about electric vehicles destroying our power grid and shutting down America.  Instead, be a beacon of truth and educate EV skeptics about the benefits of EVs as energy storage devices that will allow us to rely more heavily on renewable energy.