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Why the EV boom could strain the power grid

More than half of new cars sold in the U.S. by 2030 will Electric car. That could put a huge strain on our power grid, an aging system built for a world that runs on fossil fuels.

In 2022, domestic electricity demand is expected to grow by up to 18% by 2030 and 38% by 2035, according to an analysis by . rapid energy policy assessment and analysis toolkit, REPEAT, an energy policy project at Princeton University. This is a significant change compared to the roughly 5% increase seen over the past decade.

“For the last 25 years, we’ve had a lot of power demand in this country when we haven’t had a real demand for it,” said Rob Gramlich, founder and president of Grid Strategies, a transmission policy group. said.

While many parts of the economy are moving from fossil fuels to electrification, think household appliances such as stoves and heating homes and offices, the transport sector is driving the increase. Light vehicles (the segment that excludes heavy trucks and aircraft) are projected to use up to 3,360% more electricity by 2035 than they do today, according to data from Princeton University.

However, electrification is an effective decarbonization solution only when combined with a large-scale increase in renewable energy. “So there is a driver for the need for a large grid on both the supply side and the demand side,” Gramlich said.

This means that the power grid will require major changes. It is necessary to build more high-voltage transmission lines to transport power from local wind farms and solar power plants to areas of demand. Smaller distribution lines and transformers for last-mile power delivery. It also includes hardware such as inverters that allow customers with home batteries, EVs and solar panels to feed their surplus energy back into the grid.

It won’t come cheap. In a study commissioned by the California Public Works Commission, grid analytics firm Kevara predicts: California alone will need to spend $50 billion on grid upgrades by 2035 to reach ambitious EV targets.

Major Grid Infrastructure Needs

Charging an electric car consumes a lot of power. A direct comparison with an appliance depends on many variables,A new Tesla Model 3 owner who drives a national average of about 14,000 miles a year will use about as much electricity at home in a year to charge his car as he does in an electric water heater. Ten times the electricity needed to power a new energy efficient refrigerator. Large electric vehicles such as the Ford F-150 Lightning generally consume more power than the central AC units in large homes.

Lydia Klefta, PG&E’s director of clean energy transportation, said the utility currently connects about 470,000 electric vehicles to the grid in its northern and central California service areas, and by 2030 will have 300 electric vehicles. He said he was aiming for 10,000 units.

Given that PG&E jurisdictions cover about 1 in 7 electric vehicles in the U.S., how PG&E responds to the transition to EVs could serve as a model for the country. I have. It’s not an easy task. The company imposes a four-year funding cycle for grid infrastructure upgrades, with its last funding request in 2021. Mr. Krefta said the funds would certainly not reach the required amount now.

Source Power Services workers contracted by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to repair a transformer in Healdsburg, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“Much of the analysis included in that request came from forecasts for 2019 and 2020, particularly some of the older EV forecasts that did not forecast some of the growth that we believe is likely to be seen today. ‘ said Mr. Krefta. Because of this situation, PG&E is applying for numerous state and federal grants that could help it reach its electrification goals.

Aram Shumavon, CEO of Kevala, said, “I think people are oversimplifying what electrified transport means right now.” “If done right, it will be phenomenal. If mismanaged, it will upset a lot of people. And that is a real risk. It’s a risk to homes, and it’s a risk to utilities.”

Shumavon said that if the grid infrastructure has not kept up with the EV boom, drivers will face long lines and charging challenges, such as charging only at certain times and places. Overstressing the grid also makes it even more vulnerable to extreme weather events, making it more prone to the blackouts experienced in California in 2020.

The easiest way to meet the growing demand for electricity is to bring more energy sources online, preferably green ones. However, while it is easier to locate coal and natural gas power plants near population centers, the best solar and wind resources are usually more rural.

in short, What the US really needs is more high-voltage power linescan transport solar and wind resources across county and state lines.

But Gramlich said that while we spend all the time replacing and upgrading old lines, we rarely build new lines. “I think you’ll probably need about $20. [billion] Or $30 billion annually in new capacity, new route miles and new delivery capacity. We are currently spending close to zero on it. ”

Construction of new transmission lines poses major regulatory hurdlesoften straddling multiple counties, states and service areas, all of which must approve lines and agree on how to finance them.

“Think about a line that spans 20 or 30 different utility jurisdictions, and they have a way of recovering costs in their local systems, but there’s something that benefits 34 utilities. , they kind of let go and it comes down to who’s going to do what: how much to pay, how much and how do you decide?” Gramlich said.

Allowing is also a major obstacle. All new energy projects must conduct a series of impact studies to assess what new transmission equipment is required, how much it will cost and who will pay for it.but The list of projects stuck in this process is huge. The total power generation in the queue, almost all of it renewable, exceeds the total generation capacity of today’s power grids.

Inflation control legislation could reduce emissions by about 1 billion tonnes by 2030. According to Princeton University’s REPEAT project,. However, according to this same analysis, more than 80% of these savings could be lost if transmission infrastructure deployment does not exceed twice the historical growth rate of 1% per annum.

“intermediate period”

Efforts are underway to accelerate the building of energy infrastructure. Most notably, Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin introduced a permit reform bill in May after similar efforts failed last year. President Joe Biden is backing a bill that would accelerate permitting all kinds of energy projects, including fossil fuel infrastructure. But many Democrats see the bill as overly friendly to fossil fuel interests, which will make it difficult to steer politics.

But even if the pace of permitting accelerates and we start spending heavily on transmission soon, it will still take years to build the necessary infrastructure.

“There will be a period of very high demand in between, but because the grid cannot be built during periods of demand, distributed energy resources are very active in managing the process. It will play a role “because there are no other resources available,” Schumavon explained.

This means that resources such as residential solar and battery systems could help stabilize the grid by allowing customers to generate their own electricity and sell surplus power back into the grid. Automakers are also increasingly equipping their EVs with bi-directional charging, allowing customers to power their homes with giant EV battery packs, or to power the grid just like a regular home battery system. It will be possible to supply to Tesla does not currently offer this functionality, but indicates that it will in the next few years. ford The F-150 Lightning and Nissan Leaf have already done so.

Ford’s all-electric F-150 Lightning offers bi-directional charging, allowing customers to use the truck’s EV batteries to power their homes.

ford motor company

There will also be a greater focus on energy efficiency and the timing of energy use. For example, PG&E is looking at ways to optimize charging times for large electric vehicles.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is work with some companies that are putting a lot of load on us to give them the flexibility to only charge 50 EVs at 7pm, but they can charge at 2am. It’s about providing a reasonable load constraint,” said Klefta.

But Krefta hopes the charging time constraints are temporary, and PG&E aims to encourage consumers through dynamic pricing, where electricity prices are higher during peak demand and lower during off-peak hours. said that And utilities are working with automakers to figure out how electric vehicles can bring the most benefit to the grid.

“What do you need to do in your garage so that your car can power your home? Can it be used to charge the battery and then discharge it back to your home? Is there a grid during the evening hours?” Krefta said questions like these will help build the future green grid. Stated.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that. Rob Glamlich Presumed US Should Spend Annual new transmission capacity is about $20 billion or $30 billion. Earlier versions listed the amounts incorrectly.

Watch the video to learn more about how the U.S. grid can prepare for the electric vehicle boom. Why the EV boom could strain the power grid

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