Update: What if Oprah gave all of us EVs?

Would the electric companies be able to supply the increased load?

Note: While at the beach last week, I got some helpful input from loyal readers and trusted sources which I’ve tried to incorporate into the original post.

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In a prior post we ran some back-of-the-envelope numbers on EV ownership.

The conclusion: With $5 per gallon gas and 14¢ per kWh electricity, a shiny new EV would practically pay for itself … albeit taking 20 years to break even.

Key assumptions: (1) A typical EV with a 50 mWh battery has a range of about 250 miles (2) All electricity drawn for charging is stored in the battery (i.e. charging efficiency is 100%)

Caveats: (1) Doesn’t consider the cost of an in home charging station (for faster charges) which would lengthen the breakeven time frame (2) Doesn’t consider differences in lifetime maintenance costs which likely favors EVs and would lower the breakeven time frame 

Let’s assume that life expectancy (for you and for an EV) is generally longer than the breakeven time frame … and ask a broader question:

If there were a groundswell of EV demand, would electric companies be able to generate enough electricity to keep the EVs charged (and the rest of our electricity-based lives operating “normally’}?

Suppose, for example, that Oprah gave all of us an EV today.

How much electricity demand would be added on to the U.S. electrical grid?

Again, let’s run some more back-of-the-envelope numbers…

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  • According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (whatever the heck that is): In 2020, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,715 kilowatthours (kWh)

For reference: My home’s annual electricity consumption runs about 27,500 kWh

Before you accuse me of being an energy glutton, consider…

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research estimates that Al Gore (former VP and current Climate Control Advocate) has a 20-room home that “devours” nearly 221,000 kWh annually … that’s about 20 times the national average … and about 10 times my home’s usage 

  • There are about 125 million households in the U.S.  We’ll assume that each household is a “residential utility customer”.
  • That makes total residential electrical consumption about 1.34 trillion kWh (10,715 kWh x 125 million)

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  • According to Federal Highway data reported by Metromile, in 2019, “there were almost 229 million Americans who have driving licenses, and they collectively drove over 3.2 trillion miles.”

Note: I’ve seen estimates that range all the way up to 7.5 trillion miles.  To give EVs every benefit of the doubt, we’ll use the low number

  • Again, from what I can ascertain, a Tesla gets about 5 miles per kWh of stored charge. (e.g. a T3, 50 kwh battery gets 250 miles of range).
  • So, 3.2 trillion miles of driving requires 640 billion kWh of additional electricity.

Note: The above assumes that “filling” a battery is like filling a gas tank  — i.e. a gallon “flowing in” is a gallon “stored for use”.

This assumption probably understates the amount of electricity that is required to recharge a battery … maybe by a lot!

Bottom line: A full “incredible (fast) transition” to EVs would increase consumer / residential electricity demand in the U.S. by at least 50% (640 billion kWh / 1.34 trillion kWh)

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Key question: will the electric companies (and the country’s electrical grid) be able to meet the increased demand?

Keep in mind that:

  • In some (many?) parts of the country power plants are currently fueled by coal, gas and nuclear power — all of which are deemed taboo by climate control zealots.
  • Key components (or full units) of solar panels and windmills are sourced from China … and neither modality has been proven to generate a dependable flow of energy “at scale”.
  • Some parts of the country have a history of electrical outages — e.g. unplanned weather outages and rolling blackouts.

But, a trusted source reminded me that the electrical companies — while sometimes stressed during peak daytime hours — have substantial unused capacity during nighttime hours.

That unused capacity can be tapped by “demand management” that nudges EV owners to charge their batteries overnight instead of during the day.

Note: I’m trying to track down hard data re: U.S. electricity generation capacity.  Any ideas re: sources?

For example, nighttime electricity rates (i.e. prices) are generally lower than daytime rates … and that differential can be widened to coax overnight EV charging.

That’s true, but overnight charging at home — even with nighttime rate discounts — isn’t exactly a gimme.

  • For example, many urban car owners park overnight on the street where there’s no access to a personal (or public) electrical outlet.
  • Other drivers park in driveways and would need to run extension cords from house outlets to their cars.  Good idea?
  • And, charging via a standard 110/120 outlets is a slow process … adding only a few miles of range from an overnight charge.
  • To up the charging speed requires 220/240 service and a fast-charging station … which adds to the initial EV “investment”.

So, leveraging unused nighttime electrical capacity may be a partial solution, it doesn’t close the supply-demand gap that EVs are virtually certain to create.

How’s that gap going to be closed?

I’d sure like to see the plan…

 

 

 

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