Adjusting the US Electrical Grid for 100% Electric Cars

The DOE has information about adjusting the energy grid for mass EV adoption. The problem is the DOE assumes it will take until 2050 when mass EV adoption will occur 2025-2030. Natural gas electricity generation is relatively easily scaled to handle a sharp increase in demand. More solar and nuclear power can be added to decarbonize the surge in electric cars and trucks. A few average years of 12-25 GW of added power generation will handle even 100% US EV sales, this addition would be maintained as the 200-300 million fleet of used cars are replaced.

Despite relatively flat energy generation growth within the last decade, the U.S. electric power system added an average dispatchable generating capacity of 12 GW per year, with years that exceeded 25 GW when including intermittent resources. In an unmanaged charging scenario intentionally chosen as an illustrative worst case, 12 GW of dispatchable generating capacity is equivalent to the aggregate demand of nearly 6 million new EVs. This case does not account for managed charging (i.e., using smart communications technology to coordinate EV charging over the course of a day), which offers additional flexibility to reduce peak demand and which will play an important role in integration of EVs at Scale. Most EV users charge overnight from their garage at home, which makes it easier to add significant numbers of EVs.

Energy Generation for EVs at Scale

In the past 20 years, the annual growth in US energy generation (i.e. total electricity consumption, or load, and system losses) has averaged 30 TWh, and while the last decade has seen less than 5 TWh added each year, historically, there have been periods when the grid added nearly 100 TWh per year.

Written by Brian Wang,

29 thoughts on “Adjusting the US Electrical Grid for 100% Electric Cars”

  1. Another thought – if ultimately gas stations service roughly 20% as many customers as they currently do (due to home and other charging options), they're going to want to stimulate more foot traffic.

    Since a lot of their remaining customers will have to sit around for 20 minutes or so, some will probably decide to add more/better fast food and some seating for EV charging customers, and a drive-through window to increase sales. In essence they'll be trying to become fast food restaurants with charging services.

    This might work – but very likely will stimulate fast food restaurants to compete by installing chargers! Starbucks has already started. If gas stations are harder to turn into fast food joints than fast food joints are to turn into charging stations, maybe most gas stations WILL get shut down.

  2. If the line is a mile long, then obviously they are NOT in a situation where there is no demand for gasoline.

    You can have low demand such that people can't sell it profitably, or you can have too much demand for supply to keep up. But to have both means you've made up the story.

    Now if you'd said that once gasoline becomes limited to a smaller fraction of the population, then legal restrictions on where you can sell it, and other government interference will restrict supply; that would be a reasonable worry.

  3. I'll admit I've never met such a person.
    But then, they would probably stay away from industrial cities, such as where I live and work.

    But then I see cars with bumper stickers and bank advertising proclaiming that all mining is bad. And clearly no mining = no industrial society. So such people are effectively hostile to industrial society, even if they are too stupid to realize that this is what they are.

  4. If the power grid problem will becomes worse because of the increased demand during the day why not change this part of the problem first?
    Consider, the new million mile batteries coming soon.
    What if they could be used in a Tesla powerwall, people could buy them, charge them at night and use the electricity during the day…no solar required and apartment dwellers could use them to offset their utility bills.
    Next thought, could these night time charged power walls be used by Tesla charging stations as power source? Direct lines to the charging stations, the incentive would be that the power wall energy donator could receive partial payment for their donation. Offset the cost of the night time electricity and power wall initial costs.
    A win-win for both Tesla and the power wall buyer.
    Excess electricity could be dumped into a powerwall set up close to the Tesla charging stations, a reserve for the overall power grid, so a backup of sorts.
    Next would be using 'nuke on a truck' the small nuke power plants, I've wondered when Musk will get involved with them…they will be needed of Mars later. Seems like a possible means of decentralizing the power grid structure thru' using a parallel system for a time.
    Then there's the idea of the Boring company, why not think underground for a parallel power grid? The idea of living underground isn't appealing for a lot of people, but consider the city dweller, do they really 'go out in nature' everyday?

  5. Yeah, once demand dies down. I've just explained why demand won't die down for a long time.

    You might have seen electric vehicles rapidly adopted in the 60's or 70's, (If we'd had the battery tech!) because,

    1) The cars back then wore out fast, if you got 100K miles out of a car you weren't doing bad. Today unless your car is in an accident, you should expect 250-500K, and if you baby it, maybe even a million miles.

    2) We could still build stuff rapidly, because the Greens were still a fringe group, and the regulatory tar hadn't been poured over everything.

    Today, with ICE cars running reliably for a decade or more, and half or more of 'infrastructure' spending going to crony capitalism handouts to the connected, rather than to build things, you simply aren't going to see that fast replacement. Because the old cars won't get out of the way, and the infrastructure to charge the new ones won't be available that fast.

    AND, as long as a lot of ICE cars are around, the demand for gasoline isn't going to die down. Why would it?

  6. …so on cloudy days, everyone's car runs out of go at the same time. Nuclear makes much more sense, drive around by day, and use as much power as you need to, then plug in at night when demand drops. Pretty much weather independent, too – except that during the winter, when batteries don't work as well, reactors should work better – the difference between turbine inlet temperature and heat sink will be greater.

  7. Short term that is simple and works.

    But lots of 'gas' stations are now convenience stores that do a little better than break even on gas. So long as charging times are a significant multiple of fueling times, they'll have to expand (e.g. into adjacent shopping center parking spaces) and offer services on which customers spend more time and money to match their charging times.

    Longer term, self-driving cars may create another model where people don't have to wait at all – they just schedule their car to get charged. That either brings back service station attendants, or maybe 'robo-snake chargers' will work.

    And of course, SD taxis may overturn the whole 'service station' industry if that works as well as Musk suggests.

  8. Even you might save on a simple hybrid. E.g. a new Toyota Camry hybrid costs about $2100 more, and at ~15000 miles/year it would pay for itself in 3.2 years with $4.34/gal gas. (A Ford Escape hybrid would pay for itself in 1.7 years.) A used hybrid may pay for itself even faster assuming the price differential falls.

  9. Once demand for gasoline dies down, gas stations will start disappearing like Blockbuster Video stores. They simply won't be there, because they aren't profitable anymore for the owner.
    If you do have a remaining gas station in town, the line to get gas could be over a mile long. And then you get up to the pump and they just ran out.
    We saw stuff like that in 1973. They had to make special laws to compensate.
    Saying "I'll just keep using gasoline until my car implodes" isn't a realistic option. It would be like if you needed whale oil to run your car. It's just not there anymore.

  10. People seem to forget that the cars we drive today were first introduced about 120 years ago. We're at the end of a fairly long tech tree. It seems like gas stations have been around forever, but they haven't. There was a lot of pain involved in rolling out our current system.

  11. Existing gas stations can convert gradually – installing a few chargers at a time to replace fuel pumps. In the end we will have as many charging stations as gas stations, minus fewer of them needed as some people can charge at home

  12. Electrical ramp up will happen as needed, as 100% EV take-up won’t happen over night. We’ll be fine.

  13. At current gas prices I buy $1-2K worth of gas in my household. My family already owns two cars, one paid for, the other close to paid for.

    We could buy gas at current prices, or even significantly higher, for a LONG time, before we'd have spent the cost of even the cheapest available electric car. 15-20 years worth of gas, to buy the cheapest new electric car on the market.

    Under those circumstances, it would be economically irrational for me to buy an electric car.

    Further, suppose one of our cars gets totaled. We buy exclusively used cars, $5K will buy a used car with a lot of miles left on it. STILL cheaper to replace the trashed car with a used ICE car.

    Gas prices would have to reach, I estimate, $15 a gallon, before it would make sense for me to go electric. I suppose they might get that high by the time my current car wears out, if we keep getting administrations that have set raising gas prices as a goal.

  14. How do you get from "60%" to "quite low"? If those 60% bought EVs, you think they wouldn't want to charge at home? Some subset have only on-street parking, but it's not a large fraction.

    Charging will also quickly become an apartment complex must-have amenity once EVs become very common.

    Public charging stations will become more common as EVs get to a more substantial fraction of cars on the road.

  15. I think Aptera (or similar) is a better fit. 40 miles of range a day from solar on the car. And if you do charge it, it needs much less electricity to go the same distance. Plenty of range with a 110V outlet in a couple hours.
    And the designs will just improve with higher energy density batteries.
    Granted, that 40 miles is in sunny areas. But solar cells will probably also improve.
    The tech to make the body may also improve. There is this crazy new plastic that is extremely strong:

  16. Electric would have to do something very different to be adopted rapidly. eVTOL is the only way there would be very fast adoption. Flying cars make sense in areas where housing is expensive. A flying car is not constrained by the roads and likely free to move at higher speeds and more directly to the destination. You can buy land and a decent house in the boonies, and commute with the eVTOL. You can afford to pay $100,000 because your home is more than $100,000 cheaper. Heck, being very hard to get to a house by road will probably be seen as a positive. It means you are only likely to be bothered by other people with eVTOLs.

  17. Vehicles will not be replaced that fast. The average age of a vehicle is 12.2 years. And lots of people never buy new. Most wait and buy 6 or 7 year old cars. Others 15 year old cars and older. And they drive their current vehicle into the ground first…or nearly. Or they buy something else, if they wreck what they are driving.
    My sister had more than 1 million miles on her truck before it got clobbered, and had to buy another.
    If there is to be massive rapid adoption, new electric has to be near the price of used gasoline vehicles. And a tax rebate is not going to do it. Lots of people benefit more from standard deductions, and don't want the headache of calculating every receipt.
    Many people just don't have the disposable income to buy a vehicle over $8,000 or $12,000.
    Heck, I bought my van for $1,000. It does what I need it to do. I don't speed or drive crazy, so I don't need something faster. I have good visibility, and reasonable comfort. Yes, I could have bought a nicer van. But I would rather have my money in the stock market, where it can grow, rather than evaporating in my driveway. No $1,000 cars today. The used market is in as much drama as the new.
    And the faster people buy new electric vehicles, the more life will be left in the old gasoline cars they will sell. People will drive those, until they stop working. Mass adoption by 2030? A meaningless claim without a definition of "mass adoption". If that means 50% of US registered cars electric, I say: bunk.

  18. The mechanism for supply electricity is there. What we have is opposition from the Joe regime, which shut drilling on public lands in Jan 2021. People of his party do see Climate Change as a bigger threat than a nuclear attack by Putin. It's an ideological thing. Whatever Joey does on drilling & fracking in the meanwhile, he'd be wise to spin up the electric car manufacturing, marketing, batteries and infrastructure, Mucho Gusto! I prefer solar (perovskite/tandem cells), battery perfection, but just read an article how microhydro dams would boost this.

  19. Forget not that barely 60% of USers live in single-family dwelling, many of which do not own it, so the amount of people who would 'happily' manage an EV lifestyle (charging at home regularly for more than a few hours) is quite low. Most public charging outlets are inconvenient and have an additional parking charge on top of the electricity. We may be plateauing at 2 – 3x current EV rates without significant MURB upgrades and Code changes.

  20. There is the unmentioned aspect of the virtual battery reserve represented by plugged in EV's though. A virtual battery reserve, operated by a large EV fleet, would be an interesting take on load balancing.

    Take this hypothetical scenario. Tesla is actually over-provisioning their battery packs by 20%. This improves longevity of the pack, and when idle plugged in at home, with appropriate forecasting for the specific vehicle, it becomes possible to operate the remaining 20% capacity as a large virtual grid battery that can be dispatched by Tesla at will when plugged in. They could easily slide in the provisions for this in the legal contract for subscription/leasing of Tesla vehicles, and all the vehicles in a FSD robotaxi fleet (fulltime as well as parttime participants). This functionally offloads the cost of the virtual grid battery directly onto the consumer. The obstacle to this is laws regarding regional ISO's controlling the input/output of the virtual battery plant, along with local grid capabilities, along with laws regarding local monopoly control of the grid.

  21. I don't doubt that it's physically possible to upgrade the grid enough, fast enough.

    I do doubt that it's politically possible.

    The problem is that the very people demanding a switch to electric vehicles are adamantly opposed to any realistic way of increasing electric supplies. They'd insist on doing it in some wildly impractical manner, like a nation-wide network of windmills. Not just because they're impractical, a lot of them are actually hostile to industrial society, and want to starve it of energy.

    And most of the money spent would be diverted to political cronies of the current administration.

  22. The infrastructure for mass EVs is just not happening for a long time. When I can fuel up like petrol, 5 minutes, and have the same range in cold conditions I have with ICE, only then will there be mass appeal. Their practicality goes against human nature.

  23. Have you considered why they have contradictory values? Perhaps they don't elaborate on their true goals. This website trumpets abundancy whereas many elite/deep staters are malthusian.

  24. Thank you for addressing this, Brian. It is something I've been asking about in my posts here for quite a while.

    A huge part of the equation is who gains control over the Department of Energy: will they be (1) pro-growth or (2) pro-rationing? There are many academics who see any type of carbon-fueled energy production as destructive, and don't want any more of those plants built, even natural gas. If they gain control of the DOE, our grid will have a hard time keeping up with EV demand. We simply don't have the capacity to increase power output quickly enough without natural gas.

    Many of the current political appointees at the DOE and CEOs of large private equity firms are trying to choke off any financing of new gas wells. Maybe the Russian invasion of Ukraine plus the horrific rate of inflation will deter the DOE and the anti-carbon financiers from taking draconian action, but there are no guarantees.  Just look at nuclear plants. Even with all the evidence that points to nuclear reactors being a big part of the future of clean air, the US is currently shuttering reactors instead of building them. The regulatory burden of building new reactors (some regulation is necessary, but much is not) has made the cost of new reactors exorbitant.

    I am watching to see what the future holds, but nothing gives me faith in the current leaders of the DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Political hacks who see inexpensive energy as a danger instead of a plus…

  25. An important follow up topic to your analysis that EV growth will be much faster than has been anticipated.

    Since Tesla is at the center of BEV growth and is also in Solar and utility batteries – and Elon has recently come out pro nuclear, Tesla should have a public position on this.

Comments are closed.