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‘The lights will not go out’ – Energy experts do not foresee EVs overloading US electrical grid

According to research teams and engineers at multiple US energy laboratories, the acceleration of EV adoption will not reach any sort of “tipping” point in which charging EVs will overwhelm the electrical grid. In fact, experts state that the entire industry is well aware of this imminent electrical load coming to the US grid and is adapting daily to support a future dominated by EVs.

Whether you’re a savvy EV enthusiast or not, there are a few common questions or arguments that pop up in day-to-day EV conversations – “Where am I going to charge?”, “I don’t want to sit on the side of the highway for 30 minutes,” and “I’ll probably run out of battery on a road trip.”

One of the biggest questions I personally get all the time, especially from self-proclaimed “petrol-heads” is, “How are we going to charge all of these EVs on the electrical grid?” The current North American electrical layout consists of two synchronous grids – the Eastern and Western Interconnections as well as three minor power grids in Alaska, Texas, and Quebec. There are also independent operators on the state level and non-discriminatory regional organizations.

Since its origin in the US in the 1920s, the electrical grid has grown and evolved to avoid energy monopolies and more recently, promote more forms of renewable energy. However, its still fair to say the US electrical grid could use an overhaul as some sections just may be held together with band-aids and chewing gum.

The Biden Administration has taken a multilateral approach to these electrical grid updates to support a future US fleet dominated by EVs. This past February, President Biden announced the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program, promising $5 billion in funding to implement over 500,000 EV stations on highways over the next five years.

The program is part of the administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) which passed last November and also provides a $2.5 billion grant program to expand chargers on the electrical grid for EVs in rural and underserved communities.

The US electrical grid has an influx of new funding, but can it be updated fast enough to support the snowballing number of EVs on roads? Energy experts strongly believe so.

EVs electrical grid

US electrical grid should develop concurrently with EVs

A recent report from Physics Today interviewed several energy experts from acclaimed research laboratories throughout the US, who are all in agreement that there is no foreseeable threat of the electrical grid being overloaded by EVs.

In fact, some of them like Matteo Muratori, who leads a research team at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), are frustrated by social media posts spreading FUD about EVs and their negative effect in the electrical grid.

On the contrary, Muratori stated that the increased demand from EVs charging on the grid should be no different from the past when air conditioners became commonplace in homes and businesses. Furthermore, Muratori said that utilities are excited for this zero-emissions transition because, well… selling electricity is their entire business.

As new buildings like offices and schools are erected each day in the US, the grid continuously evolves to support their required energy demand. Adding charger piles outside should not make a difference. “The lights will not go out” says electrical engineer Michael Kintner-Meyer, who leads mobility research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and agrees with Muratori.

There is zero argument that this steadfast transition toward EVs will add a major demand in the electrical grid’s load. Electricity demand could jump up 25% if the country’s entire army of 290 million cars and trucks went electric, but that realistically won’t suddenly happen overnight.

According to Muratori, EVs currently account for only 0.2% of grid energy consumption but can jump to 24% when a majority of US transportation becomes electrified. The experts above all agree however, that this transition will be gradual, allowing utility and regulatory planners ample time to adapt. By ample time, we mean at least eight years, but probably more.

The Biden Administration has set a goal to make half of all US vehicle sales electric by 2030, and many EV automakers have publicly shared similar sentiments. According to a 2020 study of the Western Interconnection commissioned by the US Department of Energy, the PNLL found that EVs could be powered through 2028.

However, Kintner-Meyer pointed out that data for the report was gathered in 2018, and bulk energy providers have become much more aware of the growing EV transition since then and are preparing accordingly.

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Scooter Doll is a writer, designer and tech enthusiast born in Chicago and based on the West Coast. When he’s not offering the latest tech how tos or insights, he’s probably watching Chicago sports.
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