In August 2003, 55 million Americans and Canadians lost power for two days in the largest blackout in American history. While this blackout was largely a product of human (and software) error, it's a compelling example of what can happen to the grid when the right -- or wrong -- circumstances align.
Electric vehicles, or EVs, are gaining in popularity. According to the International Energy Agency, global sales of EVs doubled from 2011 to 2012, while here in the U.S., the Electric Drive Transportation Association reported that sales of plug-in cars nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013, and are on track to grow by 30% in 2014. From 2011 to 2013, the percentage of cars sold that featured electric drive -- this includes hybrids and plug-ins of all types -- increased from 2.3% to 3.8%, a whopping 50% jump.
What's the potential impact of adding all these new vehicles to America's power grid -- a power grid that has been described as old enough that Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison would recognize many of its components?
After all, it only takes two EVs to equal the power demand of one average American home.
The impact of a single electric vehicle
The most popular fully electric vehicle in the U.S. is the Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA ) Model S sedan, with the company expecting to deliver 35,000 in 2014. Furthermore, Tesla management expects to be building cars at a rate of 100,000 per year by the end of 2015, enormous growth from today's levels.
According to Tesla, the average driver would need about 4,800 kilowatt hours, or kWh, of electricity per year to travel 15,000 miles. The average American home pays $0.12 per kWh, so you're looking at about $576 per year in additional electricity cost. Compared to a gas-powered car that gets 25 mpg and paying $3.85 per gallon, that's a cost savings of $1,700 per year. That's pretty awesome, if you don't mind paying more than $70 grand for a Model S.
But what's the impact of that 4,800 kWh on power usage? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average residential customer consumed just over 10,800 kWh in 2012, so we are talking about increasing power use by a whopping 44% per home, per electric vehicle. There are more than 115 million households in the country. Here's what power consumption -- just for residential customers -- would look like based on an EV in every driveway.
Adding to the load at the worst possible time
Adding 44% to the demand load isn't the big risk with EVs, because our grid has capacity to meet additional demand. The problem is when so much of that new demand is concentrated into a narrow window of time. Residential power consumption tends to peak in the late afternoon and early evening, when people arrive home from work and school en masse.
The concern with EVs, then, is that the power demand they add to the grid isn't distributed evenly over the day. Going back to information supplied by Tesla, the average daily commuter would pack that new demand into about 90 minutes, potentially every afternoon when he or shre returned home from work, right when residential power demand is peaking.
Source: The Motley Fool
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