The number of electric cars on the road is steadily rising as many riders work towards a sustainable, environmentally friendly future. Some suspect the U.S. power grid may fail if millions more drive Electric Vehicles. Does the country need to expect power rationing when everybody has electric cars?
Power rationing when everybody has electric cars is likely in the future. Between adding millions of electric cars and extreme weather to the aging U.S. power grids, it is almost certain. The only thing that could change that outlook is a massive nationwide U.S. power grid upgrade, which is also unlikely.
Everyone will eventually have electric cars as the federal government will ban sales of gasoline vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2035. Read on to find out more about power rationing and electric vehicle use.
Will Power Rationing Be Inevitable With Electric Cars?
With the current state of the U.S. power grid, power rationing will be inevitable because of an aging power infrastructure. With 1.3 million electric cars on the road in 2021, the amount of electricity consumption by the average electric vehicle was 3,010 kilowatt hours per year. At this rate, the USA’s current power grid will need to be more efficient to avert power rationing if all registered motor vehicles in the country are electric.
If every registered car in the country today is electric, the nationwide electricity consumption will increase by 28%. As a result, the grid may have to deliver up to 38% more power or more by 2050, including electric cars and other demands.
To increase the grid’s capacity, utility companies must upgrade present-day infrastructure to facilitate higher electricity consumption by each household and all segregated distributions. These capacity expansions and infrastructural upgrades must happen in time to sustain the rapid adoption of electric cars in the foreseeable future. With an upgraded grid, power rationing may not be necessary when everyone has an electric vehicle or more than one.
Contrasting views among experts and utility companies make it difficult to find out if power rationing is inevitable when electric cars replace gasoline vehicles. Besides, power rationing is already a reality in the U.S. especially in the summer.
Total U.S. Utility Electricity Generation Capacity by Energy Source In 2022
|Energy Source||Percentage of U.S. Total|
|Non-hydroelectric (wind, solar, geothermal, wood fuel*, municipal solid wastes**, & landfill gas-methane)||20%|
Why Is Upgrading the Power Grid Necessary?
Upgrading our country’s electrical power grids is necessary to prevent each area of the grid from being overwhelmed when electricity demand outweighs the supply.
Suppose energy consumption substantially increases annually until 2050, especially during the summer when peak electricity demand is higher. In the summer of 2021, the net electricity generation capacity was ~1.08 terawatts. This capacity is expected to increase to ~1.77 terawatts by 2050.
In the above scenario, power rationing may not be necessary. The 2050 forecast for electricity generation predicts an increase of over 60% compared to 2021, which will be sufficient to avert power rationing when everybody has electric cars.
However, these figures are forecasts, and the grid must still deal with the demand and supply problem in real time. Sometimes, enormous spikes can challenge parts of different grids without warning.
Besides, not all regions or states will have similar increases in electricity demand because of electric cars, as the grid’s condition isn’t the same in every state.
Is Power Rationing Necessary in Every State?
Power rationing might not be necessary for every state because four separate electrical grids serve different parts of the country. The largest energy producer in 2020 was Texas, accounting for 24.4% of the nation’s total energy production, followed by Pennsylvania at 9.9%.
The disparity in energy production between states largely depends on the following:
- Type of energy source (i.e., fossil fuel, solar, wind, etc.)
- Government policies
- Technological improvements
Therefore, utility companies in some states are better equipped to handle rising power demands than others because they aren’t managed under a single entity.
Increased Energy Requirements for Large Population States
California, Texas, and Florida lead the U.S. with the most registered vehicles, accounting for 26% of the U.S. total.
California, with a population of over 39 million, has over 1 million registered electric vehicles. The total electricity demand for peak charging of these cars is 4% of the state’s grid peak load as of 2021. But California will move towards 12.5 million electric vehicles to meet their new requirements by 2035 if the population were to stay the same.
California power grid operators in September 2022 were calling for power rationing as record temperatures were baking its residents and many of its hydroelectric power plants were dormant during the drought.
The total electricity consumed by Californians is expected to surge by 96% between 2020 and 2045, according to a recent report by Cal Matters.
“To provide enough electricity to meet total demand, California would have to do the following:
- Require drivers to charge their cars during off-peak hours even while many people don’t have unrestricted access to chargers at their jobs or homes.
- Build solar and wind power at an unprecedented pace that has never been achieved before.
Calmatters – Race to zero: Can California’s power grid handle a 15-fold increase in electric cars?
- Develop a giant new offshore wind farms industry to power 25 million homes by 2045.
- Build 15 times more public chargers to 1.2 million from about 80,000 currently.
- Expand vehicle-to-grid technology.
- Triple electricity production by up to 42% in 2035 and,as much as 85% by 2045.”
Please see some of our related articles like “Why The U.S. Power Grid Isn’t Ready For Electric Cars” and the “U.S. Vulnerability With an All-Electric Vehicle Economy.”
States like Wyoming, with a sparse population, will probably require only 17% more electricity, whereas Maine may need a 55% increase in net power generation and supply. Many state grids need an overhaul to deliver more electricity.
Current Power Rationing Measures
Outside the US, power rationing has already been a reality for many people driving electric cars in countries like China and Australia. The European Union and the UK have an ongoing discourse centered on the necessity of power rationing in the future because of the increasing reliance on electricity, including electric cars.
Americans regulating daily electricity consumption based on peak and off-peak rates are already practicing power rationing. Some utilities also have mid-peak or standard rates, and such policies might be more vital when every car is electric.
The surge in real-time electricity consumption when most people charge electric cars will probably encourage more off-peak use and influence other behaviors or practices. Governments may introduce different policies to prevent EV owners from overloading the grid, such as:
- Charging restrictions, such as amps or watt-hours, time of use, etc., may apply.
- Off-peak policies may be reviewed, as most people will charge electric cars at night.
- Smart chargers might be mandatory, i.e., regulating amps, charging time, rates, etc.
Many executives and experts in the power sector believe that electric cars or vehicles won’t break the grid. However, the same professionals highlight the merits of managed charging and time-of-use pricing as reasons why the power grid can endure electric car’s energy needs.
Both managed charging and time-of-use pricing are essentially power rationing. An electric car with controlled charging, which may or may not be optional in the future, can remotely start and stop charging in real-time based on the grid condition, i.e., electricity demand and supply.
Also, policymakers might integrate time-of-use pricing options into managed charging policies, which will effectively be power rationing. The power sector is also exploring technology to facilitate energy transfer from electric cars to the grid and your home. Solar panel systems connected to the grid already use such technology to feed surplus electricity to the utility’s power distribution.
While some may state that simultaneously charging millions of electric cars won’t affect the grid, there are still groups advocating for power rationing in some form.
Ways to Combat Power Rationing
Renewable energy can change the dynamics of the power sector, as more people are opting for power backup systems and solar panels in their houses these days. Such setups can offset the increasing electricity demand from the power grid to varying extents.
Additionally, battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Electric car batteries will probably get more efficient and powerful in due course. It won’t be a leap of faith to expect BEV or electric car batteries to deliver a much greater range for every kilowatt of power.
Swappable electric car batteries can redefine the paradigm for the people and the power sector. While battery swapping may be detrimental to the expansion of charging networks for electric cars, the convenience and utility may reduce the real-time loads on the power grid.
Ancillary, mandatory, and voluntary power rationing measures may be necessary when every car on the road runs on electricity.
Power rationing may not be necessary if the nationwide grid gets upgraded and the net electricity generation capacity increases in proportion to the switch to BEVs.
- Argonne National Laboratory, US Department of Energy: Assessment of Light-Duty Plug-In Electric Vehicles in the United States, 2010 – 2021
- Tech Evaluate: US Power Grid Is the Problem With the Future of Electric Vehicles
- US Energy Information Administration: What Is US Electricity Generation by Energy Source?
- Federal Highway Administration, Department of Transportation: Highway Statistics Series – State Motor-Vehicle Registrations
- Forbes: Electricity Grids Can Handle Electric Vehicles Easily – They Just Need Proper Management
- Reuters: US Government to End Gas-Powered Vehicle Purchases by 2035 Under Biden Order
- Can California’s grid handle 12 million electric cars? – CalMatters
- Utility Dive: EVs Could Drive 38% Rise in US Electricity Demand, DOE Lab Finds
- Statista: Projected Electric Power Sector Capacity in the United States from 2021 to 2050
- The Pew Charitable Trusts: Electric Cars Will Challenge State Power Grids
- Yicai Global, Yicai Media Group: Power Rationing in Sichuan, Chongqing Upends EV Charging, Battery Swapping
- Auto Express: ‘As We Become More Reliant on Electricity, Rationing It Might Be Necessary’
- University of Illinois Chicago: Patterns of Electric Vehicle Charging With Time of Use Rates – Case Studies in California and Portland
- Reuters: Inside China’s Electric Drive for Swappable Car Batteries
- Forbes: Battery Swapping Revival Could Threaten Electric Car Charging Networks
- Statista: Distribution of Primary Energy Production in the United States in 2020, by State
- Council on Foreign Relations: How Does The U.S. Power Grid Work?