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Impact of Electrification of Transportation on the Grid

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Alan Ross's picture
Alan Ross 4493
President Electric Power Reliability Alliance (EPRA)

Experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the think tanks industry. Skilled in Negotiation, Coaching, Sales, Team Building, and Management. Strong business...

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  • Jan 25, 2022
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2022-01 - Power Industry 2022 Trends & Predictions, click here for more

Henry Ford has a dilemma. He needed gasoline readily available to power the mass-produced cars he would be building. In much the same way, we need charging stations to power the vehicles of the future. What does that mean for infrastructure, for the home of tomorrow and for the need for massive amounts of batteries that are going to be required? Because, in the current politically charged world, truth is often blurred by misrepresentations and at times, outright falsehoods, we must present facts as facts and opinions as opinions, leaving the public to decide how best to navigate change.

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Let’s first deal with the myths surrounding EV’s. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a great, but simple guide to debunking most myths related to electric vehicles. As engineers and technical experts on everything energy related, the community at Energy Central should only deal in fact or opinion, not myths or deception. Make no mistake, the “oil economy” is not giving up easily in the fight to move from internal combustion to electric.

Here are the a few of the myths and the facts surrounding those myths:

Myth: Electric vehicles are worse for the climate than gasoline cars because of the power plant emissions.

Fact: Electric vehicles typically have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline cars, even when accounting for the electricity used for charging.

Myth: Electric vehicles don’t have enough range to handle daily travel demands.

Fact: Electric vehicle range is more than enough for typical daily use in the U.S.

Myth: There is nowhere to charge.

Fact: Electric vehicles can be plugged into the same type of outlet as your toaster! When you need to charge while on the road, you’ll find over 45,000 stations in the U.S. available to the public.

Myth: Electric vehicles are worse for the climate than gasoline cars because of battery manufacturing.

Fact: The greenhouse gas emissions associated with an electric vehicle over its lifetime are typically lower than those from an average gasoline-powered vehicle, even when accounting for manufacturing.

You can access the complete guide here: https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/electric-vehicle-myths#Myth5

In short, EV’s are here and are going to become the dominant mode of transportation in the future. We have just dealt with a few of the myths around EV’S and now for an opinion, and please remember that this is my informed opinion, based on the facts we know about concerning the adoption of EV’s and its impact on our electrical system infrastructure.

Along with EV adoption, our electrical system infrastructure is undergoing several other significant changes over the next decade: on is the move to green energy generation and the other is the passage of the infrastructure bill that allocates billions of dollars to our industry. Taken together these factors are going to create the largest amount of change and disruption that we have ever seen, and the impact of each of these factors on the others cannot be oversimplified.

My first instinct is to “follow the money”. As dollars flow from the feds into the states, utilities will vie for funds in ways that accomplish three things:

  1. The money must be seen to add value and strengthen the existing grid asset infrastructure. After all, that was the original intent of the bill
  2. But at the same time, it must consider greenhouse gas issues, the reduction in dependence on fossil fuels, and the massive need for wind and solar generation, transmission and distribution.
  3. Finally, what role will EV adoption play in both above factors? Does at home charging create a positive or negative impact on the grid?

One simple example of these issues as they play out is happening right now in Vermont Electric, in an interview with Chris Root, their COO, shared how the addition of wind and solar in an area not noted for rapid adoption of green generation, has changed their power distribution model substantially. Couple that with the adoption of thousands of “power walls” that have been placed throughout their customers’ homes, to be used as back-up power for those times when the sky is cloudy and the wind isn’t blowing, and also the ability to rapid charge EV’s, and you have an integrated model of all three factors mentioned above.

Henry Ford would be proud of his own company, I am sure, as they and every major manufacturer rapidly develop the next generation of EV’s. Exciting change is taking place within the Energy Central community and keeping abreast of and ahead of that change should be the goal of every member of our community.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 25, 2022

Alan, though you make many good points about electrifying transportation, I would disagree with your contention there is a "massive need for wind and solar generation":

• After over $30 billion in public investment, solar currently generates less than 3% of U.S. electricity; wind, less than 8%.
• An investment of over ten times that has left Germany failing to meet climate targets, while increasing reliance on coal and gas.
• The cost of electricity in Germany is higher than that of any non-island country in the world.

It seems the "massive need for wind and solar" is little more than an artifice manufactured by its investors to promote their unreliable products, at the expense of electricity customers and the environment.

Alan Ross's picture
Alan Ross on Jan 28, 2022

I'd be interested to know why you'd say that Bob?

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Alan Ross on Jan 28, 2022

I see you are from the nuclear industry so my question for you is, "will we see nuclear coming back as a major source of power"?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 29, 2022

Alan, though I'm not "from the nuclear industry", I am from a nuclear state - Illinois. My home state has over half of its electricity generated by safe, clean nuclear power (Chicago has the cleanest electricity of any major city in the country, with 70% of it generated by five, area nuclear plants).
 

I grew up in an atmosphere where nuclear was not only accepted, but was considered the energy of the future - the only source of energy that could save us from killing the planet with coal and gas. Home of the Manhattan Project, the first controlled fission nuclear reactor (Fermi 1), FERMILAB, and Argonne National Laboratory, Illinoisans are proud of their nuclear heritageand the fact our state has never had a serious nuclear accident.

Buy in answer to your question, yes - we will see nuclear coming back as a major source or power (in truth, we already are). There is simply no other option for delivering the abundant, reliable, clean energy necessary to power the electrified homes and automobiles of the 21st century.

By the way, the idea a "nuclear industry" even exists is a product of the anti-nuclear imagination. There are several U.S. reactor manufacturers - GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse are the largest -  but they earn a fraction of their revenue from selling reactors. There's a reason for that, and it's not because nuclear isn't economical. It's because nuclear is too economical. Consider:

1) Total global uranium sales are in the neighborhood of $6 billion/yr, total coal sales in 2019 were $890 billion - more than two orders of magnitude higher.

2) Nuclear plants are capable of lasting three times as long as a solar or wind farm, and twice as long as a gas plant.

In a truly competitive industry nuclear would be a hands-down favorite, for the simple reason it delivers the most electricity for the lowest price. But in the twisted priorities of monopoly electricity it's the companies who can foist sales of coal or gas on their customers, who can force them to pay for new plants every thirty years, who make out like bandits.

As a society we need to choose between two options (renewables are not one of them): Are we going to continue to consume our way into oblivion by burning oil and gas, or are we going to make it possible for hundreds of generations of our descendants to live better lives than we live today? I think we'd agree on the choice, but whether it's possible or not, the jury's still out.

Leo St. Hilaire's picture
Leo St. Hilaire on Feb 3, 2022

Thanks Alan, Electric Transportation will play a bigger role in the power system of the future.

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