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Plug-In Vehicles Not Affecting Power Grid Much

Current electric vehicles have almost zero impact on the power grid… so far.
Current electric vehicles have almost zero impact on the power grid… so far.

Taking a look at plug-in vehicles, including plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles, one might come to the conclusion that this would simply reduce fossil-fuel consumption and place the strain on the power grid.

In both cases, one would be right. Tesla Motors, for example, figures that its electric vehicles alone have reduced the nation’s fossil fuel consumption by some 20 million gallons of gas. General Motors claims that the Chevy Volt has saved over 30 million gallons of fuel. It seems logical then, that about one-and-a-half billion miles of plug-in-vehicle driving might put a strain on the already-outdated power grid, which has some power generators worried.

The real question is, “Do they need to be worried about electric vehicles?” According to a recent study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), there is almost zero impact so far, and that with just a quarter-million plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on the road. Last year, according to a Pacific Gas & Electric representative, only 12 out of 10,000 local grids needed upgrades to accommodate the installation of a residential LII electric vehicle charger. That is just one-tenth of a percentage point.

What is interesting is that PNNL’s research also indicates that many more plug-in vehicles could be adopted before any upgrades to the power grid are necessary. Recall, for example, that there are just over a quarter-million plug-in vehicles on the road already. According to PNNL, the current power grid could handle over 140 million plug-in vehicles if charging was spread throughout the day. If charging was restricted to off-peak hours, PNNL figures that number would be reduced to just under 80 million. Current electric vehicle population is just one-third of a percent of even the smaller number, so it is going to be many years before this becomes a concern.

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