Electric cars could be one of the biggest threats to the power grid, according to some engineers who believe that the widespread use of plug-in electric vehicles could cause the power grid to crash.
Today’s electric grid is not built to handle the huge amounts of current that electric cars require, they say. Recharging an electric car such as a Tesla requires the same amount of power as three average homes, MIT’s Technology Review noted.
“Some neighborhood grids just aren’t built for huge spikes in power demand” Kevin Bullis wrote in the Review. “The rise of the electric car has utilities scrambling to adjust.”
Electric Car Sales Increasing
So far, utilities have been able to keep up with the demand, but electric car sales are increasing. Around 96,000 electric cars were sold in the US in 2013. But the International Energy Agency predicts there will be 20 million electric cars on the road worldwide by 2020.
Scientists from the University of Vermont have come up with what they say is a solution to a strained grid, but it probably won’t make everyone happy, and opponents of smart meters will have major concerns.
“The key to our approach is to break up the request for power from each car into multiple small chunks — into packets,” Jeff Frolik, a co-author of a new study on the issue, told e! Science News.
Their solution involves using smart meters that will “turn on” and “turn off” the charging of electric cars. For instance, over several hours, your car would charge in five-minute increments. When it’s not charging, your neighbor’s card would be, and when his is not, yours would be. The idea is to prevent the system from being strained.
Owners of electric cars would be able to get a full charge without “waiting in line” by switching to an “urgent” charge. They’d pay higher prices to do so.
Companies Getting Behind Electric Cars
The number of Tesla S series electric sedans sold will increase by 55 percent this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told his shareholders. Musk is planning to bring out another electric car, the Model X crossover, in 2015 as well as a Model E subcompact electric in 2017.
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Tesla, of course, is not the only company selling electrics. Nissan and General Motors are, too. The strain on the grid is made worse by plug-in hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and the Chevy Volt. The owners of those vehicles can plug in to recharge the battery instead of buying gas.
The number of plug-in hybrids sold in the US could exceed 150,000 by the end of 2014, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association.
The Grid is Unreliable
The increasing popularity of electric cars could be a major problem because the grid is already unreliable. Off the Grid News reported that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the US power grid a grade of D for reliability.
Electric cars could drive up your electric bill in two ways. First, they will create more demand for electricity when many utilities are having a hard time generating enough power. Second, the grid will require more maintenance and repairs to handle the added demand from the electric cars. Those costs will also have to be passed onto consumers at a time when electricity rates are already going up.