Electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly becoming the more popular alternative to standard combustion-engine cars and trucks. In fact, by 2030, more than half of all cars sold worldwide are likely to be electric. But is the U.S. power grid ready for this change?
The U.S. power grid isn’t ready for electric cars, because upgrades and improvements to the power grid system are slow and costly, and they’re not increasing at the same rate as EV ownership. Increased reliance on alternative sources of electricity could be the grid’s only hope.
Belief in climate change is directly connected to electric vehicle adoption. This article will explore the challenges electric vehicles pose to the U.S. power grid system and discuss why the grid might be unprepared for the switch from combustion to electric.
Why the U.S. Power Grid Is Unprepared for Electric Vehicles
Although the U.S. power grid seems to handle the increase in EV usage fairly well, so far, there are major concerns about the future of the grid’s energy output.
For example, by 2030, it’s estimated that about 50% of all car sales will be for electric vehicles.
Considering how many new cars are sold in the U.S. each year, roughly 17 million from 2015 to 2019, this means that about 8.5 million new EVs will find their way onto U.S. roads each year from 2030 onwards. And this is a low estimate, as several automakers are likely to stop mass-producing combustion engine consumer vehicles altogether by 2040.
Theoretically, Most U.S. Drivers Could Be Driving Electric Cars By 2050.
Taking into account the fact that most households have two vehicles, this means that there could very likely be more than 248 million EVs on U.S. roads within the next several decades. And we’re not even taking population growth into account.
With that many electric vehicles in use, the strain on the U.S. power grid could jump from 9.5 billion kWh per year (the current estimate) to 1.25 trillion kWh per year when fully transitioning to electric vehicles.
Consequently, the U.S. power grid might be unprepared for the rise of EVs, and the fall of combustion engine cars, because of:
- A rapid transition away from combustion engines.
- Slow utility grid improvements and expansions.
- Transitions to more sustainable energy sources.
The U.S. power grid has to keep up with increased demand due to rising population rates, which was 1,256,003 people, in 2021 and the increased reliance on electrical devices and technology in the average household.
Adding EVs to the mix only increases the pressure on the U.S. power grid to produce more energy and to do so more sustainably.
Many utility companies may switch from coal-burning plants to more sustainable solar and wind energy electricity sources, which is bound to be expensive. Additionally, many electrical grids are likely to expand and improve over the coming decades, ensuring users have greater access to grid electricity.
U.S. Power Grid Expansion for Electric Cars to Cost Billions of Dollars
Transitions and electrical grid improvements are estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Some estimates expect $500 billion in cumulative nationwide electric vehicle subsidies as linked to an increase in the electric vehicle market as early as 2035.
Even with government and tax-payer funding, it’s unlikely that utility companies will be able to achieve their sustainability and improvement goals by the current deadlines.
The result is a too-slow change in grid electricity output and range. As a result, the transition to EVs might outpace the U.S. power grid’s ability to power those vehicles. However, many EV owners are already considering alternatives to using grid energy to power their cars.
How Much Power Does the U.S. Power Grid Generate?
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), utility companies in the U.S. generated about 4,108 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2021.
Considering that the average U.S. home consumes 10,632 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, as of 2021, the U.S. electrical grid run by major utility companies produced enough energy to power more than 386 million households.
That’s more than three times the number of households in the U.S., which were approximately 124 million as of 2020, with 2.6 people per household.
What Else Does the U.S. Power Grid Supply?
Electric vehicles, homes, and apartments aren’t the only things that draw electricity from the grid. With few exceptions, the local utility companies power the following:
- Shared public utilities, such as traffic lights and street lamps
- Public buildings, like community centers and libraries
Estimating the actual electricity consumption of these non-residential devices and buildings is challenging.
But if their electricity usage is comparable to that of the sum of U.S. households, there should still be about 1.5 to 2 trillion kWh of “unused” energy produced by the U.S. power grid each year.
So, how many electric vehicles would it take to reduce that number to zero?
How Much Electricity Does the Average EV Consume Each Year?
Estimating how much electricity an Electric Vehicle (EV) consumes yearly is also challenging, as every electric vehicle has a specific consumption rate, battery capacity, and range. Additionally, not all EV owners drive vehicles that same distance each year.
The average American electric vehicle uses approximately 4,000 kWh per year.
Still, according to a 2019 report published by the U.S. Department of Energy, the average electric vehicle consumes about 3.8 MWh (3,800 kWh) annually. Although it’s unclear how many people in the U.S. own and drive an electric vehicle, about 2.5 million EVs have been sold to U.S. drivers over the last decade.
If we multiply that number by the average annual energy consumption rate of an EV (about 4,000 kWh), we can arrive at a prospective per-year energy usage of about 10 billion kWh.
Though this is a tall figure, it doesn’t come close to the estimated 1.5 to 2 trillion kWh of electricity “leftover” by the energy grid. So, why are some experts speculating that the U.S. energy grid isn’t prepared for electric vehicles?
U.S. Power Grid Extreme Weather Cause Overload
Some experts speculate that the U.S. power grid isn’t prepared for electric vehicles because of a history of failure on a regular basis?
It also depends on where you are in the country and the current load on your area’s grid. The United States does not just have one power grid, it has many interconnected parts. In some areas like California or Texas, you may have overload from heat or cold weather.
If your power is out for a week or two like it has been in Texas for the last few years because of extreme cold weather, your Electric Car is parked too because you don’t have a way to charge it. You are not going anywhere at that point if that is your only vehicle.
Many of the U.S. Power grid sections get overwhelmed every year by peak demand, which requires rolling blackouts. Rolling blackouts occur on a regular basis in the United States because of the insufficiency of the current power grid.
We talk about issues with the U.S. power grid in many of our article like “How Vulnerable Is the U.S. Power Grid?” and “Should You Be Worried About Weather-Caused Power Grid Outages?”
Solar Energy: A Potential Alternative to Grid Energy
More U.S. households are attempting to reduce their reliance on local utility companies for electricity, primarily via solar energy systems. This change could become a lifesaver for the slow-to-adapt U.S. power grid.
Although the average home may still consume electricity from local utility companies, these households could reduce their annual power grid energy consumption by 850 kWh per year.
While solar power isn’t enough to power an EV for a full year or eliminate the average household’s reliance on the U.S. power grid, it does provide a slight decrease in energy consumption.
So, theoretically, if every U.S. household had a high-quality solar panel system, U.S. homes could generate up to 105 billion kWh of non-grid energy each year.
This power generation doesn’t cancel out the estimated EV power consumption (more than 900 billion kWh) by 2050. Still, it does provide a little relief that could be just enough to help the U.S. grid survive the sudden increase in power usage heralded by the age of EVs.
Besides, as solar panels become more efficient and affordable, the average kWh solar energy production could increase, offsetting reliance on the U.S. power grid even more. However, only time will tell if the U.S. power grid will be prepared to switch from combustion engine vehicles to electric ones.
In its current state, the U.S. power grid is unprepared for increased ownership of electric vehicles. The amount of electricity these vehicles require could severely strain local utility companies.
Belief in climate change is directly connected to electric vehicle adoption.
Only rapid and well-funded expansions and upgrades to the U.S. power grid will ensure that it’s prepared for the switch from combustion-engine vehicles to EVs.
An increase in household solar panel systems can also help reduce the strain on the U.S. power grid and partially offset the increase in electricity consumption caused by the increase in EV car ownership.
- International Energy Agency: By 2030, EVs represent more than 60% of vehicles sold globally, and require an adequate surge in chargers installed in buildings
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) | What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source?
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) | How much electricity does an American home use?
- United States Census Bureau: QuickFacts | United States
- U.S Department of Energy: Grid Integration Tech Team and Integrated Systems Analysis Tech Team | Summary Report on EVs at Scale and the U.S. Electric Power System
- 8 Billion Trees: How Many Electric Cars Are There in the United States? We Found Out
- Bloomberg: More Than Half of US Car Sales Will Be Electric by 2030
- Policy Advice: 20 In-Depth Global And US Auto Sales Statistics For 2022
- Car and Driver: Six Major Automakers Agree to End Gas Car Sales Globally by 2040
- United States Census Bureau: Growth in U.S. Population Shows Early Indication of Recovery Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
- The New York Times: With Federal Aid on the Table, Utilities Shift to Embrace Climate Goals
- Pew Research Center: Home solar panel adoption continues to rise in the U.S.
- Forbes: How Much Power Does A Solar Panel Produce?