One of the talking points often brought up by opponents of electric vehicles is their impact on the grid. With electric vehicles still in their infancy, their effect on the grid might not be felt yet. However, as they increase, we will have to consider how the grid fares as more people start plugging in their vehicles at home.
There is no doubt that if every household switched to electric cars, the grid would feel the impact. However, it is not the death knell that naysayers paint it out to be. And more importantly, there are steps we can take to minimize the impact of electric vehicles on the grid. This and more is what this article looks into.
What is the effect of more electric vehicles plugging into the grid?
If every American driver suddenly switches to electric vehicles, the grid is estimated to witness at the very minimum a 25% more load increase. While this jump is significant, analysts generally agree that the current power supply system can handle millions of EVs plugging in, although it might require careful planning and scheduling.
What needs to be done to prepare the grid for the additional load created by incoming electric vehicles?
The obvious first step is to generate more power to take care of the expected increase in demand. More power plants have to be built. This, however, has been an ongoing exercise even without electric vehicles in the picture. Also we will have to consider a broader list f power generation methods including wind, solar and even nuclear.
Transmission networks have to be upgraded too. This is necessary because setting up charging stations for public or industrial uses where rapid charging will be conducted, requires a decent amount of upgrading to the current infrastructure. For example, building a charging station for a company with a fleet of 200 electric buses that need charging overnight needs a substation and other equipment to handle the large amounts of electricity required to charge up the busses overnight.
Upgrading transmission networks also require a significant investment, which will ultimately be passed on to the consumers. However, analysts expect savings from not having to purchase gasoline to make up for any increase in electricity costs. Simply put, the price differential between an electric mile and a gas mile, is more than enough to account for any increase passed on by the utility providers.
Another fundamental issue utility companies have to address is what time of the day people charge their electric vehicles. This is due to the effect of many people charging their cars simultaneously at certain peak times of the day. Although it is statically impossible for every EV owner in the nation to charge at the same time since it is not even necessary to charge every day, still the grid will benefit from an upgrade to its load balancing technology. Using AI for load balancing would improve efficiency.
Another solution for load balancing is staggering when EV owners plug in to charge their vehicles. This can be achieved by incentivizing off-peak charging with significantly reduced costs. Some utility companies are even experimenting with taking control of the charging by determining the best time to charge and only offering access to charge at those times.
These solutions will sure require significant regulatory changes as the utility industry is heavily regulated. However it is worth hassle for all stakeholders because a study found that optimized charging can reduce the cost of grid upgrades by 70% which in turn will reduce the additional costs passed on to consumers.