As we see in the news, the U.S. Power Grid is under duress and constantly having problems. From the 2022 California rolling blackouts caused by drought and heat, outages from Hurricane Ian, to the Texas power grid blackouts of February 2021. Is the U.S. power grid ready to support the Electric Vehicle future?
The U.S. power grid is the problem with the future of electric vehicles because of its constrained capacity, frequent failures, and struggle to include renewable energy. Massive investment, expanding the power infrastructure, and adjusting EV charging schedules may help address these challenges.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a zero-emission vehicle; currently, electric vehicles require as many resources as gasoline-powered vehicles to manufacture and maintain over the vehicle’s entire life.
The shift to electric cars from gas-powered types is seen as a solution to climate change. While drivers may be willing to make the transition, we will explain why the current U.S. power grid is a significant obstacle.
Why the U.S. Power Grid Isn’t Ready for Electric Vehicles
The U.S. power grid is the system that makes electricity available at your home or business. It includes power plants, transmission lines, substations, and distribution lines that deliver power to consumers.
When things are working normally, few people think about the grid. When the grid breaks down, the lightbulb in the bathroom goes off, air conditioning or heating equipment stops, and the kitchen appliances take a break. If you rely on an electric car to get around, a problem with the power grid may ground you.
Let’s look at why the U.S. power grid may not be up to the task in its current state as vehicles go electric.
Outdated Infrastructure That Won’t Hesitate To Fail
America’s power infrastructure is old, making it susceptible to frequent failures. About 70% of the country’s power transmission lines are older than 25 years. These wires typically have a lifespan of 50 years. Transmission lines transport bulk electricity, such as from power plants to substations.
Moreover, power transformers have also deteriorated. The average transformer in the country’s grid system is more than 40 years old. These units have a service lifespan between 30 and 50 years.
Transformer failures can become more frequent as they near their end of life. As a result of the deteriorating grid, power outages have increased sharply in recent years. While failures primarily arise from the old power infrastructure’s inability to withstand severe weather events.
Power failures can make life difficult for electric car drivers. The challenge can be more complicated when drivers respond to emergencies caused by weather events that have knocked out their power.
What Happens When You Cannot Charge Your Electric Vehicle?
What happens when you cannot charge your electric car? The answer is nothing, as your vehicle won’t move; you are stranded and can’t go anywhere unless you walk or can get a ride.
It is the same as being out of gas, and any extreme weather storm, like a hurricane, can shut down the grid for days or weeks.
There is an increased taxing of the U.S. power grid with population growth, new building, and converting communities to electric heat and air conditioning. These changes put more strain and complicate the effects of cold, heat, and extreme weather.
Forget about not charging your vehicle; what about power rationing when everybody has an electric car? Is the United States ready for rationing of power?
Power Grid’s Constrained Capacity May Slow EV Adoption
A 2022 CNN article describes that “electricity experts and officials are warning that states may not have enough power to meet demand in the coming months. And many of the nation’s grid operators are also not taking climate change into account in their planning, even as extreme weather becomes more frequent and more severe.
All of this suggests that more power outages are on the way, not only this summer but in the coming years as well.”CNN-Energy experts sound alarm about US electric grid: ‘Not designed to withstand the impacts of climate change’
American homes with air conditioners have increased significantly in recent decades. Moreover, households are switching from gas-powered appliances to electric options.
As a result, electricity demand has increased, especially during peak hours of afternoons and evenings. Hence the constant news on television or in articles showing how the U.S. power grid is failing. The rise of electric vehicles is only driving the market.
Critical studies have found that limited charging infrastructure is one of the problems with people purchasing electric vehicles. Another issue is the current power grid’s ability to supply power as Americans shift away from fossil fuels.
The United States set a goal in April 2021 to create a carbon and pollution-free power sector by 2035 for the ultimate goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. That means we will have to increase our electricity use by 40 to 60 percent.
Increasing the nation’s power supply will be front and center to expanding the ability to use electric vehicles, especially in highly populated areas and big cities.
Please see our article for more information on “Do We Have the Energy To Run Future Technologies?“
Are Electric Cars Affecting the Power Grid?
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says in 2021, the average American home used electricity consumption of about 29.1-kilowatt hours per day.
With the average American driving 38.4 miles (62 kilometers) daily, an Electric Vehicle consumes 13.4 kWh of power daily.
A top-of-the-line 2023 Tesla Model 3 EV uses 25 (kWh) of electricity per 100 miles. As you can see, this is almost the same amount of electricity used by the average American home each day running air conditioning and heating and all of their appliances.
If half of the American drivers shift to electric cars by 2035 and continue to charge during peak hours, the nation’s peak electricity demand would increase by 25%, and by 2050 it would increase by 38%. The grid may be overwhelmed as more drivers go electric.
Infrastructure and Time Required For EV Charging
The infrastructure in the United States for electric vehicle chargers is inadequate, especially in rural and low-income areas. The automobile industry has had concerns about the ability and commitment of the U.S. federal and local governments and utility companies to ensure that the necessary power grid infrastructure would be built to support E.V. charging, especially with peak demand.
As we have said, all major automakers have committed to producing electric vehicles. However, many manufacturers are still focused on hybrids until the shift in technology and infrastructure is seen.
There are three types of fast chargers available for EVs:
- Level 1-120-volt outlet, 4 miles per hour of charge.
- Level 2-240-volt outlet, 32 miles per hour of charge.
- DC Fast Charging-480-Volts, 540 miles per hour of charge.
Level 1 EV chargers are inefficient and take a long time to charge an electric vehicle. Sometimes there is no other choice depending on the availability of electrical supply in a home or building, you will have to use a level 1 E.V. charger.
Level 2 EV chargers have many different characteristics, like being indoors and going in your garage or outdoors and weatherproof. They also require a 240-volt outlet which depending on if they are at your home or office, the building’s age and accessibility may present a problem. Besides being expensive if not prewired, they also can be “not an option.”
D.C. fast chargers require 480 volts, and not every model of an electric vehicle can use D.C. fast charging. D.C. fast chargers also have three types of connectors, Tesla, CHAdeMO, and CCS, making electrical installation much more complex than level 1 and 2 chargers.
Renewable Energy Going To Waste
Apart from breaking down frequently, the aging energy grid isn’t transmitting all the power produced to demand points. When the transmission networks become overwhelmed, grid operators curtail some power sources, which can be the cause of rolling blackouts.
Solar and wind power sources are easiest to curtail. As a result, these renewable energy sources are sometimes dropped from the grid when transmission lines are congested. Consequently, renewable energy goes to waste.
This also causes problems because renewable energy depends on the weather, like the sun and wind, to harness any energy. One expensive solution is to create more energy storage with batteries so that generators can save excess power instead of wasting it and sending it into the power grid.
The U.S. power grid also does not have enough transmission lines to get the power from where it is to where it needs to go. With integrating renewable energy into the power grid, power transmission is the most significant matter in question, and it will take the longest to build.
Grid Relies on Fossil Fuel Power Plants
A significant reason many drivers are turning to EVs is that they are considered eco-friendly. The problem is that the U.S. grid remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
Today, electricity is produced in the United States from natural gas, coal, nuclear energy, wind, hydropower, and solar energy. Fossil fuel-powered electricity systems generate 64% of today’s global supply and continue to fall. With over eight billion people on the planet, we can see the impact of rising CO2 on our environment.
Only 19.8 percent of U.S. electrical power was supplied by renewable energy in 2021.
While electric cars may help reduce carbon emissions in the transport sector, they continue to drive fossil fuels to use through the grid. Therefore, the power grid needs to transition to clean energy for electric vehicles to be a real solution to climate change.
How Many Power Grids Does the United States Have?
The United States Power Grid is not one grid.
The U.S. has three major grid areas and nine power grid regions under the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which is the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) for North America:
- Alaska Interconnections (ASCC)
- Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC)
- Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO)
- Southwest Power Pool (SPP)
- Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT)
- Quebec Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC)
- Reliability First Corporation (RFC)
- SERC Reliability Corporation (SERC)
- Florida Reliability Coordinating Council (FRCC)
These U.S. regional power grids handle the transmission and distribution of electricity from about 25,000 power plants across the country.
The nine grid regions primarily operate independently of one another. There have been efforts to consolidate the regional grids into a single national grid.
The grid consolidation proponents say it will improve power transmission efficiency and may reduce electricity prices for consumers. Moreover, advocates of a unified national grid say that it would make it easier to integrate renewable energy resources.
Perhaps that could help prevent renewable energy from going to waste because of congested transmission lines. Integrating more renewable energy into the grid may also allow for a speedy retirement of oil and coal-fired power plants.
Electric Vehicle Conflicting Information
There is so much conflicting information and differing opinions on electric vehicles (EVs) replacing fossil fuel-based internal combustion engine vehicles. The hope to stop climate change and save the planet is valid.
Regrettably, it is not just sunshine and rainbows as car manufacturers, corporations, groups, and governments push EV vehicles with accelerated schedules for 2030, 2035, 2040, and 2050.
Every major automaker today makes electric vehicles, and they have many appeals. Drivers are increasingly utilizing them, which is highly positive moving forward with the technology.
Coal-powered power plants in China dominate the electric vehicle and battery market, producing most of the world’s supply of lithium-ion batteries.
There also has to be common sense reasoning behind the realities of the future of our society and the implications of phasing out all fossil fuels and their timing.
If we all drove electric vehicles, it would tremendously reduce the gasoline fuel impact. But if the power grids are not Co2 friendly, neither are the components using them. We have to eliminate a lot more than gasoline operated single passenger vehicles.
How Much of U.S. Energy Is Renewable?
As shown above, renewable energy resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower account for about 20% of U.S. electricity production.
Solar and wind are the fastest-growing renewable energy resources in the country. Apart from utility-scale production, many homes and businesses are installing solar and wind power systems at the microgrid scale.
Incentives such as tax rebates drive the adoption of renewable power in homes, offices, and electric vehicles. Places like California are currently reducing some of those incentives, though.
The California Utilities Commission voted to reduce the daytime compensation for excess solar power by around 75% for new solar customers starting in April 2023.
The U.S. has abundant renewable power resources, at about 100 times its annual electricity demand.
U.S. Vulnerability With An All-Electric Vehicle Economy
|Current U.S. Total Vehicles 2022
|Current U.S. Light-Duty Plug-in Electric Vehicles 2021-22
|Gasoline-powered U.S. Vehicles by 2030
|Projected U.S. Electric Vehicles by 2050
|Projected required EV Chargers by 2030
|Registered vehicles in the U.S. 2022 (Proj.) 290.8 million. Source: Hedges & Company
|1.3 million E.V.s sold in the United States through December 2021.Source: U.S. Dept Energy
|259 million cars and light trucks are projected to be on U.S. roads by 2030. Source: EEI
|672 million Electric Vehicles in the U.S. by 2050. Source: Global Fleet Magazine
|12.9 million EV charge ports are required for 26.4 million EVs on U.S. roads by 2030. Source: EEI
Of the 250 million light vehicles on U.S. roads, less than 1% are electric. As sales of gas-powered cars are restricted, more electric vehicles will be on the streets in the coming years.
According to the article first published on the Journal of Simulation, The long road to electric cars, about 45% of U.S. new car sales may be electric by 2035. That growth rate could see EVs make up about half of the cars on the road by 2050.
By 2050, America’s energy demand may increase by at least 35% or as much as 90% from the 2018 level.
The increasing power demand comes as the U.S. also targets to become carbon neutral by 2050. That emission reduction target relies heavily on switching drivers to electric vehicles.
What Would Happen to the Power Grid if All Cars Were Electric?
The power infrastructure could be overwhelmed and cause outages if all cars were electric now. Theoretically, In a gradual E.V. adoption, the power grid can keep up with the demand as long as its capacity is expanding.
A technological monoculture is not discussed enough in an all-electric vehicle economy. The U.S. power grid is a problem not only with the future of electric vehicles but with our economy also.
You can manually pump gasoline if necessary, but whether gas or electric, if the power grid goes down for weeks, months, or even years, nothing is moving.
We discuss these vulnerability issues in our articles “What To Do Before a G5 or Greater Geomagnetic Storm?” or “What Is An Internet Apocalypse?”
Utilizing multiple fuel sources to keep America’s workforce, trucking, and freight moving on its highways is critical. This vulnerability applies not only to its food sources but also to any other necessary commodities.
Clean fuel sources such as hydrogen and fusion are making headway in their technological advancement and may be much more readily available and mainstream by the 2040s and 50s.
There is also a genuine and present danger of terrorism and cyber vulnerabilities with the U.S. power grid, whether homegrown or foreign. Concerns are magnified with EVs due to risks associated with their battery packs.
Mining for Green Energy
Mining is still essential to green energy, and electric power grids use a tremendous amount of copper and aluminum.
Rare earth elements (REEs) are needed to build electric vehicles, batteries, and their powertrains and are required for their permanent magnets used in wind turbines. They are also needed for solar photovoltaic (P.V.) plants and wind farms.
China dominates the supply of rare earth elements and mines over half of the world’s cobalt, graphite, and lithium.
Transitioning to clean energy will require, at a minimum, a four-fold increase in mineral requirements by 2040 and again by 2050.
Mining all these materials have security and climate risks. No calculations for green energy or upgrading the power grid to renewable energy can be done without factoring in all this information.
How Can the Power Grid Change To Support Electric Vehicles?
The major problem with the U.S. power grid is transmission capacity, as shown above. Another issue is aged equipment, such as transformers prone to malfunctioning. With upgrades, the grid someday could handle all the electric cars coming onto the road.
If the U.S. took its power grid upgrade and carbon neutrality as seriously as a World War, then our preparation would focus entirely on ways the power grid could change to meet the anticipated surge in EV charging demand:
Replacing Transmission Lines With Advanced Conductors
The U.S. grid transmission network could carry more power if existing wires are replaced with advanced ones that are more efficient.
Switching to advanced electricity conductors could increase the grid’s transmission capacity by 27GW annually. The extra power could move renewable energy and accelerate low-cost decarbonization.
Since advanced conductors are more substantial, they could minimize transmission line failures and power outages.
The federal government is interested in funding transmission line upgrades with advanced conductors as part of the Infrastructure bill.
Utility companies are also making individual efforts to replace existing transmission wires with more efficient options.
Building New Power Transmission Lines
Besides trying to get more power flowing through existing transmission lines, the federal government is working on building additional transmission lines.
While adding new capacity would be the best way to address the grid congestion issue, the option has faced challenges. For example, the plan has met resistance from state and local stakeholders on site permitting.
Bringing More Renewable Energy to the Grid
Expanding the transmission capacity would allow the flow of more renewable energy. With more renewable electricity flowing on the grid, there would be plenty of power for E.V. charging.
Incorporating microgrids which are local energy grids with area control capability. Microgrids can disconnect from the primary power grid and operate autonomously using only local energy like renewable wind or solar power.
Electrical energy storage is also critical to incorporating renewable energy into the grid more and has been the focus for years by designers and engineers trying to break through in this field.
Moreover, utility operators may be more flexible about retiring fossil fuel-fired power plants in the transition to clean energy.
Generating Renewable Energy Close To Demand Points
Transmission over long distances results in the loss of energy through the lines. Producing power close to demand points can help reduce transmission losses, so E.V. drivers would have plenty of electricity to recharge their cars.
Solar and wind power plants can be located at demand centers. As mentioned above, incorporating more microgrid technology into our national power grid is essential to use these technologies efficiently.
The U.S. government also offers various incentives to encourage homes and businesses to install on-site solar and wind power plants.
Pushing EV Charging Demand To Off-Peak Periods
Many EV drivers recharge their cars in the evening when they return home. Depending on the time nighttime charging can put significant strain on the grid because that’s when power demand is at its peak.
The use and coordination of smart charging will benefit distribution grids, but they also face many barriers, as with any new technology. Comparing smart charging to uncontrolled electric car charging shows the effect on the peak demand of power grids.
The power grid can meet the current demand without significant capacity expansions if E.V. drivers recharge during the day. For example, daytime charging would allow for the use of surplus electricity from renewable sources such as solar.
Moreover, daytime charging may spare grid operators the need to invest in battery storage to store the excess solar energy for nighttime use in the short term.
Utility companies have started incentivizing EV drivers to recharge during off-peak daytime hours. Many are offering discounted power rates for off-peak charging steeply.
Are Electric Cars Worth It?
As you can see from the charts above, gasoline fuel vehicles are not going away even by 2050 unless some dramatic changes are made.
Owning an electric car is worth it in the long run. Electric cars can have lower ownership costs than conventional cars over their lifetime and fewer moving parts allowing drivers to save on maintenance services and fuel expenses.
EVs are also environmentally friendly. With the transport sector accounting for about a third of America’s carbon emissions, switching to EVs could significantly narrow the country’s carbon footprint.
However, electric vehicles come at a higher upfront cost. A current shortage of charging stations also means that EVs may not be ideal in every area. Purchase subsidies and rapid expansions of charging networks are making electric cars more appealing and accessible.
The U.S. power grid is a weak link in the electric vehicle transition. The United States electricity infrastructure is prone to frequent failure, and transmission constraints slow the shift to renewable energy.
However, the grid has the potential to meet the growing EV charging demand. Upgrading the transmission lines and pushing EV charging to off-peak periods could solve the grid’s existing problems.
It is up to the citizens of the U.S. to ensure that the power grid is updated and upgraded for a myriad of reasons, including your family, public safety, and the elimination of carbon-emitting contributors.