How Mass Electric Vehicle Adoption Will Impact the Power Grid

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In January 2021, the Biden administration announced its plans to transition the United States to 100 percent “clean” electricity by 2035 and to have half of all vehicles sold be zero-emissions vehicles by 2030.

One hundred percent clean energy by 2035 is an ambitious goal, and adding a considerable amount of electric vehicles (EV) to the United States’s power grid is forecast to increase electricity demands substantially.

For example, in 2021, EV sales reached 6.6 million, reports the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). And the increase in just light-duty EVs added 1,700 gigawatt-hours in annual energy load to the U.S. grid, according to independent and non-profit energy research firm The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

Pointedly, projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) put EV sales at 23 million by 2030, meaning the grid will soon need to handle substantially more than 1,700 additional gigawatt-hours annually.

Utility companies have proposed billions in new infrastructure projects to meet the forecasted increase. And the DOE has asked a consortium of research labs like Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and NREL to contribute to an integrated systems analysis report on the impacts of EVs on the grid.

These labs found that the grid can handle high-penetration EV scenarios by applying specific strategies.

“Electric vehicles (EVs) can meet U.S. personal transportation needs using domestic energy resources while at the same time offering carbon emissions benefits. However, wide scale light-duty EV adoption will necessitate assessment of and possibly modification to the U.S. electric power generation and distribution systems,” the Summary Report on EVs at Scale and the U.S. Electric Power System outlined (pdf).

Indeed, if EV sales reach the high-penetration scenario of 6.8 million annually, and travel 12,000 miles a year while requiring 3.8 MWh/Year of energy generation per EV, the total increased energy demand for EVs on the grid will equal 26 TWh, the report further revealed.

A separate report by Dr. Matteo Muratori, NREL’s Team Lead of Integrated Transportation and Energy Systems Analysis, found that high EV integration could result in a 1,424 TWh electricity consumption increase by 2050.

By Katie Spence

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