Can the Power Grid Handle the Increased Demand from Electric Cars ?

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — There’s an old saying, “be careful what you wish for, you might get it.” True enough, it cautions us to look beyond near-term results. There are those like Adam Vaughn, writing in the Guardian, now saying exactly that about electric cars. Certainly, Vaughn and others are not wrong. Big increases in EV utilization will tax our current electric supply. In his case, he’s quoting National Grid saying that EV growth in the UK could exceed the capacity of the Hinckley Point C nuclear power station by 2030.  The idea that the 3.2GW plant, which is still under construction, could fall short of meeting demand that soon, is certainly a disturbing one.

When the plans for the plant were being drawn up, no one anticipated that the number of electric vehicles could possibly grow from 90,000 today, to nine million in 2030, a one-hundredfold increase. According to National Grid, these vehicles could add as much as 8 GW of additional demand, if they are not charged smartly.

What they mean by charging smartly is the idea that demand and supply can be tightly coordinated. You could get some inkling of this by imaging a conductor leading an orchestra, signaling  each instrument when it’s time to come in. The art, if one were to call it that, is known as demand management. Demand management, according to EIA is, “designed to encourage consumers to modify their level and pattern of electricity usage.”

Generally, this is achieved either by technology or with pricing incentives.

The incentives are by far the simplest. Most industrial and commercial ratepayers, have sophisticated power meters that measure both consumption and demand.  This allows utilities to charge more for electricity during periods of high demand.  This encourages these large customers to minimizes their demand during high peak periods. They can use renewables, onsite storage, or other methods like thermal storage to shift things like their cooling loads from noontime till evening. However, demand pricing is generally not used for residential customers.

Bulk Electric Storage Not a Requirement For Widespread Use of Renewables


(3BLMedia/Justmeans) - Physicist Amory Lovins has been at the leading edge of energy alternatives since well before most people ever heard of climate change. Far from an idealist, he is a hard-nosed scientist who has done the math to show what is possible if we are willing to think outside the box. His two latest books, Winning the Oil Endgame, and Reinventing Fire, lay out in detail the ways that our society can wean itself off of oil, coal and nuclear through a smart deployment of renewables, efficiency, with a bit of natural gas thrown in as a bridge fuel, all while growing the economy by double digits.

Lovins, along with his crew at the Rocky Mountain Institute put together a prototype 100 mpg Hypercar back in 2007, introducing groundbreaking technologies that car companies have been racing to catch up with ever since.

Now as the world has begun heeding his advice, Lovins has rolled up his sleeves to identify the various conceptual, physical, economic, political, and technological roadblocks that threaten progress and is busy dispelling them wherever he can. The latest is the idea that due to the intermittent nature of various energy sources, we can’t reliably implement renewables on a large scale without massive investments in energy storage.

Here again, Lovins has done the math, with a series of simulations. While it’s true that many renewables are intermittent, new smart grid technologies are quite responsive. Lovins presents the solution in terms of choreography, his word for a dynamic matching of electricity supply with demand. The fact is that sunshine and wind do come and go, but they do so in a fairly predictable manner. About as predictable, says Lovins, as the demand is. He also points out that since no power generation source is completely reliable, that grid has already been designed to accommodate that.

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