The advance of electric vehicles is set to raise electricity demand as consumers will hook more and more EVs to the power grids to charge them. Energy generation and generation capacity in major western markets will be sufficient to handle even a high penetration of EVs, various recent analyses have found.
In theory, capacity may be sufficient. In reality, electric grids will be increasingly strained because not all consumers will be charging their EVs during the off-peak hours at night or early morning.
Therefore, governments, states, and utilities will have to put more pricing incentives in place to discourage EV charging during peak hours in the afternoons and evenings, and incentivize vehicle charging when demand is low after 10 p.m., analysts say.
Some grids and distribution systems are strained as is. So, adding increased vehicle charging when consumers need it—not when power demand is low—would threaten the resilience of the electric grids. Governments will need to invest in stable and at the same time flexible systems capable of handling increased demand from EV charging and increased capacity generated from renewable energy sources.
The U.S. Administration, for example, is planning on making a $73 billion investment—as part of the Infrastructure Deal—to upgrade power infrastructure, including by building thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewable energy.
Capacity, in theory, is sufficient, but only if most consumers charge their EVs during off-peak hours of declining electricity demand during the day, Reuters market analyst John Kemp argues.
In the United States, the period of low demand is from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., as per EIA’s hourly electric grid monitor.
The U.S. has enough capacity during the off-peak hours, Kemp notes.
The issue with EV charging is that consumers should be convinced, including with incentives such as lower tariffs, to charge their vehicle outside peak demand hours so that the grids can handle the rise in power demand from the growing EV market.
“[B]ased on historical growth rates, sufficient energy generation and generation capacity is expected to be available to support a growing EV fleet as it evolves over time, even with high EV market growth,” a December 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Energy noted.
However, managed charging via smart meters and smart communications technology to coordinate EV charging over the course of a day will play an important role in the integration of EVs as it would offer additional flexibility to reduce peak demand, the report said.
Unmanaged charging, on the other hand, could stress already strained grids during peak demand hours.
Still, the power generating fleet, the reserve requirements of the bulk power system, and transmission expansions should be assessed and addressed, the DOE says.
Two years after this report, the Biden Administration wants to accelerate EV adoption and has earmarked billions of U.S. dollars for EV charging networks and grid expansions in the Infrastructure Deal.
The Administration, however, needs to address “invisible infrastructure” issues, including utility rates, smart charging policies, data accessibility, and hardware compatibility, Austin-based clean energy research group Pecan Street said this month. The national EV charging plan must also prioritize road-trip charging and address “the pending residential circuit panel crisis,” Pecan Street notes.
“We have to recognize that the (electric) infrastructure in parts of this country has fallen behind that in many other parts of the world,” Scott Hinson, chief technology officer at Pecan Street, told NBC News in June.
The Texas Storm this February and the perennial electricity crisis in the leader of America’s EV adoption, California, highlight the challenges that power grids face in maintaining reliability. Generating capacity may be sufficient, but reliability of the grids to dispatch electricity when it’s needed for electric vehicle charging will require a lot of investments.