Congressman Upton: power grid not ready for electric vehicles

Feb 1, 2011

Michigan Congressman Fred Upton met with the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce this morning during its "Legislative Connection Series" (tickets for the event went for $25 to $50).

The Kalamazoo Gazette reported that Upton talked about the future of energy in the country.

According to the report, Upton said gas prices might hit $4 a gallon by Memorial Day because of political instability and a moratorium on new off-shore drilling.

Higher gas prices, said Upton, will lead to more people buying up plug-in hybrid electric and fully electric cars. Something Upton feels the power grid is not ready for. From the article:

"We're going to need 30 to 40 percent more electricity by the end of the next decade, and we're not prepared," said Upton, Republican of St. Joseph.

Upton said he favors the development of more nuclear power plants and is going to look into why it takes so long to build a nuclear power plant in this country.

So is the grid ready?

John Schoen wrote about this for MSNBC's "Answer Desk." Schoen says there are a couple of "powerful reasons" why electric vehicles are not likely to overwhelm the country's electric power grid. One of them being that widespread use of electric cars is still years, if not decades away:

"Even if car makers switched their entire production runs to electric cars, it would still take many years to turn over the existing fleet of 220 million cars and trucks. The average age of cars on the road today is nine years — and rising. So the power industry has plenty of time to get ready."

Right now, car makers are rolling out very limited runs of their electric vehicles. GM could make up to 25,000 Volts this year. And Nissan says it's reached its milestone of 20,000 orders for their all-electric Leaf vehicles in the U.S. this year. Combined - that's less than 1% of the total vehicle sales expected for the year (around 13 million)

 

Electric vehicles, TVs and off-peak demand

John Voelcker writes in Greencarreports.com that 1 electric vehicle recharging equals the power consumed by 4 plasma TVs.

In practice, this means electric cars will only impose marginal increases on the electric grid. The load of one plug-in recharging (about 2 kilowatts) is roughly the same as that of four or five plasma television sets. Plasma TVs hardly brought worries about grid crashes.

Jim Motavolli writes for the New York Times "Wheels" blog that public utilities are generally not concerned because of the slow adoption rates associated with electric vehicles and because they expect to steer people toward charging these cars overnight, a time with there's much more supply than there is demand.

Andy Frank of the University of California Davis told the Environment Report back in 2008 that a lot of people don't realize there is excess capacity on the grid right now:

"The reason why is there has to be enough capacity to satisfy the peak draw in the middle of the day. But, at night everybody turns off their lights and that draw goes down to about anywhere between a half and two-thirds of what is required during the peak of the day...And then the question is how many cars could you charge with that idle capacity on our existing grid? About 75 to 80% of cars in our entire fleet in the U.S. could be charged with that excess capacity that we currently have."

Concerns about affluent areas

In the New York Times Wheels blog, Motavolli wrote that some utilities expect potential problems to be more localized.

Early electric vehicle adopters are likely to be in more affluent areas. He spoke with Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy:

“Electric cars will definitely cost more than standard, so we’re probably looking at higher-income neighborhoods,” he said. “There could be some localized problems.” He said that DTE was working with auto companies to pinpoint those potential trouble spots and install larger substations or otherwise beef up service there.