Why more electric cars can be good for the electricity grid

Why more electric cars can be good for the electricity grid

Last week, Americans had a rare glimpse of what the future might look like. It came from California as usual, but it wasn’t courtesy of Apple’s annual keynote, or even a tech company. It came from the state power grid.

Wait wait! Don’t click away yet. Electricity is, I hasten to add, Very interesting. It is the energy source of the future. In virtually every world where America is tackling climate change and zeroing out the carbon pollution of its economy, we will have to use more electricity. Electricity will power our cars, cook our food and heat our homes. And that means we need to start cultivating the kind of electrical system common sense that many of us already have about, say, gasoline or oil prices or car engines. Because especially if you’re used to living in a world of physical goods – and physical fuels – electricity is really weird.

Here’s an example. Last week, California roasted under one of the worst heat waves in recorded history. San Jose, Sacramento and Redwood City recorded their all-time highest temperatures, with the state capital reaching 116 degrees Fahrenheit. That record-breaking heat led to demand for air conditioning that was just under pressure. Last Tuesday, electricity consumption in California peaked to more than 52,000 megawatts, which is more than previous all time records for peak power by more than 3 percent.

That’s a look to the future: To say the obvious, these unusually intense heatwaves will become more common under climate change, which to make heat waves are generally more frequent, more intense and last longer. More importantly, climate change is also expanding the spatial extent from heat waves, meaning pockets of hot air in the atmosphere are now physically larger — and therefore occupy a much larger land area — than ever. That’s what happened this week. Although California suffered from the heat wave, record heat stretched out over the westdestroying nearly 1,000 records and enveloping Nevada, Utah, and Montana.

In the past, California was able to cope with rising electricity demand by importing electricity from nearby states. But if people in the West turn up their air conditioners to ward off the heat, there’s just less electricity to go around.

And here’s this week’s first lesson: This particular problem is the most acute in the early evening. California has one of the cleanest networks in the country, with over 15,000 megawatts of installed solar power. (How much is a megawatt? While the electricity consumption per capita) varies greatly from one region of the US to another, one megawatt is enough to supply power about 750 homes in California at once.) In the middle of the day, almost all of that solar capacity pumps electricity into the grid. But in the afternoon it starts to fade, literally, when the sun is lower in the sky. And, of course, it stops with the arrival of twilight.

In other words, solar energy is almost completely gone from the grid by 7 or 8 a.m. But that’s exactly when electricity demand peaks, especially on a very hot day. That creates a painful window, which lasts from about 6-9pm, when it’s still warm outside, so people still have their air conditioning on high, but when solar energy is no longer holding the grid up. Engineers must replenish the missing stock with another power source. This week, almost all of the crisis times in California have come into this late evening period.

When the state last had such a widespread heat wave two years ago, the network was lapse into rolling blackouts. But this time the grid held. State officials have said that an alarm for a mobile phone asking the residents to reduce their power consumption helped it save. Within 45 minutes of the alarm going off, the state had cut off more than 2,000 megawatts of electricity, about the same amount of energy normally needed to power more than 2,000 megawatts. 1.5 million homes. And the roster was fine.

There is the second lesson: a shortage of electricity does not work like a shortage of a physical good. Imagine a hurricane making landfall and a city running out of gas for a few days. In the beginning, gas stations might sell their stock and perhaps ration fuel as reserves dwindled. Eventually, all of the city’s gasoline would be sold. But even after the petrol loads started pouring in again, the city would face a critical shortage of petrol for a few days as drivers made “makeup” purchases to fill their tanks. In other words, a brief cessation of petrol shipments can lead to a much longer-lasting shortage.

This is not how electricity shortages work. Since the electricity system must balance supply and demand at all times, electricity shortages themselves are very short-lived. The grid operator can foresee a shortage at 7 p.m., but know that everything is fine at 8 p.m. Unless there is something For real catastrophic happens, the grid will emerge unscathed. This one that’s why it works to simply text an entire population en masse and ask them to fix a temporary network problem by turning the air conditioner a few degrees hotter or turning off their washing machines.

The battle on the grid has led some commentators to predict a clash with another aspect of California’s future: the state’s ban on the sale of new internal combustion cars, which comes into effect in 2035. in a few years, as the California electric vehicle mandate comes into effect,” the columnist Megan McArdle wrote:. “Can California’s Infrastructure Hold Up Under the Pressure?”

It just might. (That’s the last lesson we learned this week.) Electric vehicles can actually help out the grid, Michael Waraa scholar of climate and energy policy at the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, told me.

Once you start using an EV, “you immediately begin to understand that the way these cars charge is designed to avoid exactly the kind of impact people are talking about, and it’s actually very beneficial to the grid” , says Wara, who described herself as “lucky to own a Tesla Model 3.”

“The car won’t charge between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m.,” unless you turn it off, he said. “The reality is if you load at work, and then you’re done at 3am. Or you come home, plug your car in, and it doesn’t unplug until 11 a.m. But you don’t care, because you have dinner with your kids, then you go to sleep, and it charges.”

Soon more and more devices will be able to work like this, especially if, as in California, electricity rates are based on time of use become the standard. (Under these plans, electricity tends to be slightly more expensive in the early evenings, when power demand peaks, but solar power begins to decline.) Apple announced yesterday. a new clean energy charging feature which allows users to set their iPhones to charge during the parts of the day when the network is most likely to be dominated by renewable resources.

But EVs will also increase demand for electricity, Wara said, and that will likely be a boon for utilities. Over the past 15 years, the demand for electricity more or less flat. As a result, total investments in the basic infrastructure of the grid have lagged behind. “We have to make all these network investments because — forget climate change — the network is old and rickety,” he said. “But industries that don’t have growth can’t invest.”

EVs will give utilities that opportunity to grow. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has predicted that US electricity generation will need to increase at least 25 percent by 2050, even if Americans aren’t so quick to switch to electric vehicles. As Americans to do En masse to EVs, the demand for power could increase by as much as 72 percent. The Inflation Reduction Act’s generous tax credits for new solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear power plants could also encourage utilities to transfer their fleet.

Electricity is the lifeblood of technical society. Two decades ago, the National Academy of Engineering ranked electrification as the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century, surpassing the automobile (No. 2), the airplane (No. 3) and computers (No. 8). But lately, the public has come to understand energy has been treated as identical to his understanding of fossil fuels. That view must change: nothing less than progress requires it.