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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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America's Electric Grid Can't Support The EV Revolution

  • America’s electric grid is in dire need of a makeover.
  • While the Inflation Reduction Act has promised a lot of money into renewable energy and electric vehicle infrastructure projects, more focus needs to be placed on America’s ailing grid.
  • Without much-needed upgrades to the grid, both the renewable and EV revolution could face major challenges.

The Inflation Reduction Act that Congress passed earlier this year was hailed by the wind, solar, and EV manufacturing industries and environmentalists as the key to the energy transition, providing billions in funding for low-carbon electricity production and, of course, EVs.

Because of the ambitious EV plans of the administration—and of several state governments—building a charging network across the country was a crucial part of the IRA. But it could turn out to be one of those things that are easier said than done.

A recent study by the U.S. division of British National Grid—in partnership with a couple of transition nonprofits and two EV-focused tech firms—found something that electricity-savvy people have been saying for years: the EV revolution will lead to a massive uptick in electricity demand.

It’s not just the increase in demand, either. It’s a specific increase in demand at future charging points for EVs and trucks that would make it necessary to increase the supply of electricity at these points. And this increase will need to be quite substantial. 

According to the study, which focused on New York and Massachusetts to gather its data and make its predictions, current traffic patterns in the two states suggest that many sites—such as truck stops, for example—would need to be equipped with 20 fast EV chargers or more in a best-case scenario where the adoption of EVs and electric trucks is as massive as hoped.

And this, in turn, means that these sites would require the same amount of electricity as a small town, the study’s authors note. Now, let’s extrapolate from the New York and Massachusetts data: mass adoption of EVs and electric trucks would likely lead to the emergence of a lot of “small towns” across the United States. And some of the country’s utilities are already experiencing trouble securing a reliable supply of electricity.

This summer, blackouts were a threat in several parts of the United States, and not just California, which has had these problems before, None other than MISO, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, which oversees the Midwest’s grid, said there is a risk of blackouts because the supply of electricity is falling behind demand. And the reasons for this discrepancy are far from gone 

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At the time, the risk was explained by greater exports of coal and gas to Europe amid the continent’s supply crunch in the wake of the Russian sanctions but also with the retirement of coal and gas-powered plants.

“Conventional power plants are being retired and there are significant supply chain and technology challenges to replace this base load power. Planned renewable energy and storage projects are being delayed and costs are rising due to these challenges,” one energy cooperative wrote in June.

A Bloomberg author, Tom Randall, dismissed the problem of electricity supply in a commentary piece on the National Grid study, saying that even if all carmakers stopped making ICE cars by the early 2030s, this would increase global electricity consumption by “no more than” 15 percent by 2040, per BloombergNEF data. That 15 percent might seem like nothing much to some, but it is, in fact, 15 percent of a huge figure. For example, in 2019, the last year before the pandemic, the world consumed 22,848 TWh of electricity, which was up 1.7 percent from 2018, according to IEA figures.

 

The two pandemic years featured a slump in this consumption, but since 2021, demand for electricity has rebounded, and it has rebounded strongly. Over the first half of the year, according to transition nonprofit Ember, global electricity consumption reached 13,393 TWh, up from 13,004 TWh 

Related: Russia’s Oil Output Set To Fall By 1.5 Million Bpd In December

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So far, so good, because, Ember added, the whole increase in demand for electricity was met by additional wind and solar power capacity. An argument echoed by Bloomberg’s Randall, a buildup in wind and solar has been promoted as the solution to any potential shortfalls in electricity supply.

In fact, Randall made a point of not only brushing aside any concerns about shortfalls, but said that “In the age of cheap wind and solar power, that’s [the 15-percent consumption increase] not a lot.”

The fact is that the age of cheap wind and solar power is on its way out, and this is what could really change the economics of all those optimistic clean energy and transport electrification plans 

In the EU, some are already sounding the alarm already. Solar power equipment manufacturers are calling on governments for more financial help because their costs are soaring and costs are soaring because electricity and fossil fuel costs are soaring, and the production of solar power equipment is often an energy-intensive process, ironically dependent on fossil fuels.

The U.S. appears to have been more generous with its support, but no amount of government subsidies can solve the problem of the looming supply shortage in key materials such as copper and lithium.

These shortages are already beginning to push up the costs of EVs as well as wind and solar installations. It might be wise not to try and overlook this aspect of transition efforts when making plans for adding the equivalent of dozens of new small towns to the U.S, or any other, grid.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • George Doolittle on November 21 2022 said:
    The expense of simply buying a pure BEV at the moment gives lie to nearly all of this but make no mistake buying into the Tesla ecosystem means both stabilizing the entire USA electrical grid as well as providing literal *"personal power."*

    Currently in the United States this is done using propane and hence why propane is so nosebleed expensive at the moment amongst other reasons.

    Tesla in point of fact and for the first time in a long time is looking very much on sale as an equity buy in point of fact.

    Long $ibm International Business Machines
    Strong buy
    People still believe the mania long after the depression has already set in.

    Anyhow as any Farmer will tell you the only cure for low prices is low prices.
  • Ted Hu on November 23 2022 said:
    last month, musk forecast dramatic deflation in teslas supply chain. lithium pricing has calmed down a lot since..

    Cali went from 200MWh of battery storage to 4GHw this year. a 100x increase in two yrs. Cali will be doubling 3-4x this decade to achieve its Paris goals.

    Lithium irons phosphate changes equation dramatically. Iron aplenty; mix in manganese & lower lithium content while boosting energy density

    it’s fools errand to rely on lagging inflation measures like cpi vs current market based ones, which show it plummeting
  • Pissed Man on November 26 2022 said:
    The only EV that makes sense is Aptera with LiFePO4. Real aero and optimal futuristic design 3-4x more efficient than current EV's. Even an EV golf cart is 2x efficient over a tesla.
  • DoRight Deikins on December 13 2022 said:
    200 MWh - > 4 GWh is only a 20x increase. While if true it is a considerable achievement, but that is an order of magnitude less than what was stated.

    California is using 27.4 GW of power (8pm PST; 2022/12/13). That means that 4 GWh of storage at 100% eff. would last less than 10 minutes. But of course there are virtually no 100% eff batteries and then there are transmission losses and the grid to supply these resources where they are needed, etc, etc. Of course this is conjecturing that Cali lost all power except battery for a time.

    So let's say that 50% of its nuclear power went down (talk to France about the possibility of that happening). That's currently 2.25GW, so the storage would have to replace about 1.2 GW. Hey that would last for 3 hours. Oh, but a nuke plant off line could be off for a year or 10 (again ask France). Not a problem? Right, wind is supplying 1.3 GW. Oh, but that's already being used, and so if there is a high pressure system that moves in the batteries would have to replace that also. Oops, down to an hour and a half.

    And this is with hardly any significant EV usage! Ouch! BTW, did you note that Switzerland is considering banning EVs until their electricity crisis is over. And this is Switzerland where solar and hydro power dot practically every hill.

    It's interesting what you can learn in the comment section of Oilprice. A golf cart is twice as efficient as a Tesla. Of course, I never did have much regard for driving down the highway at 10mph in a golf cart. But I guess it would be OK for some.
  • DoRight Deikins on December 13 2022 said:
    I looked deeper into the current Cali energy usage (8pm PST; 2022/12/13). They have only 2.28 GW available from battery storage, which is being 100% utilized. The nukes are with a couple % of 100%, which is why 63% of Cali's power is being generated by .... yes, natural gas. Ouch, that's gotta hurt.

    One thing I didn't mention previously for batteries is the conversion from DC to AC. Not sure what the theoretical max efficiency is for that, but I believe it runs around 70%. That means of that 2.28GW of battery, they are only getting about 1.6 GW out into the transmission grid. I don't recall what the loss from the grid is.

    All in all, batteries are not really efficient and definitely not long term solutions.

Leave a comment




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