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CAN THE POWER GRID HANDLE A SWITCH TO ELECTRIC VEHICLES?

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2022 GMC Hummer EV Edition 1 EV2 EV2x EV3x pickup truck price trim specs
GMC Hummer EV Edition 1. Image via GM.

There are few times in history that the automotive industry has faced such radical change than the transition to electric vehicles. Vehicles such as the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Rivian R1T, and GMC Hummer EV. But this supposedly inbound swap to a completely different default propulsion system requires a radical change in infrastructure. If this transition does happen like automakers now claim, we could be far less reliant on gas stations than we are electricity in just the next 20 years. And while figuring out how to establish a charging network is one major task, it’s irrelevant if the power grid can’t handle it in the first place. To explain if this concern is valid, Jason Fenske of Engineering Explained recently published a video explaining how this could work. We’ll let you watch his video to get into the nitty gritty, but here are our takeaways on some electric car side effects.

Firstly up, yes, the power grid can handle a switch to electric vehicles. This transition will be gradual, and even by General Motors’ now-infamous 2035 goal, there will still be plenty of gas powered vehicles running around. Each and every year, the power grid gets better at producing more electricity, albeit this will have to continue at a steeper increase.

Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition electric vehicles cars power grid
Ford Mustang Mach-E. Image Via Ford.

But the video raises the theoretical concept of every car in America suddenly becoming electric tomorrow, and if the current power grid could handle it. Surprisingly, Fenske estimates that US power consumption would only increase by about 30 percent annually if everyone drove electric passenger vehicles.

The biggest challenge with the swap to electric vehicles will be local power grids, however. They will need to be beefed up in coming years to handle increased home charging, but it issues also stem from power spikes at certain times of the day, such as when people get home from work and plug in their cars. Fenske explained power companies will probably need to increase electric rates at peak power times, incentivizing people to charge during the day or later at night so they don’t cause blackouts. We’re looking at you, California.

Rivian R1T. Photo via Rivian

The main takeaway from his explanation is that the power grid has taken changes like it will face from electric vehicles before. In the 1950s, air conditioning became widely common in many American households, creating a new product drawing a significant amount of electricity. The power grid didn’t crumble to pieces, and Fenske says charging an electric vehicle for two hours draws similar power to running a home air conditioning system for four hours. It’s not an earth shattering electricity usage increase.

At the end of the day, yes electric cars will force power grids, local and national, to meet increased demand. But it’s not happening overnight, and not everyone will be charging their vehicles at the same time in the same grid. The nation’s power system will need to adapt, and it certainly can.

Written by Sam George

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    1. TOD surcharges during peak times is the easiest way to handle this. TECO studies show that a peak load surcharge of 50-150% over base rate will deter EV charging at residential rates, eliminating non EV utility customers to subsidize them. EV users can charge ‘off peak’ or pay up during high demand.
      [tecoenergy.com]

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